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spring dance 2010


dancing to the limit

martin del amo: spring dance 2010, international works


Sutra Sutra
photo Hugo Glendinning, courtesy Sydney Opera House
AFTER A PROMISING START IN 2009, THIS YEAR’S EDITION OF SPRING DANCE AT THE SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE EMPHATICALLY CONFIRMED THE FESTIVAL MEANS BUSINESS AND IS HERE TO STAY. IT HAS, IN FACT, THE POTENTIAL TO BECOME ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT AND STIMULATING DANCE FESTIVALS IN THE COUNTRY. CURATED BY THE OPERA HOUSE’S HEAD OF THEATRE AND DANCE, WENDY MARTIN, SPRING DANCE 2010 IMPRESSED WITH ITS ECLECTIC DISPLAY OF WORKS BY A WIDE RANGE OF NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL DANCE PRACTITIONERS AND OFFERED SOMETHING FOR PRACTICALLY EVERY TASTE.

sidi larbi cherkaoui, sutra

A box-office success story since its premiere at Sadler’s Wells in London in 2008, Sutra is a collaboration between celebrated Belgian choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and 17 Buddhist monks from the original Shaolin Temple in China. The pared down set consists of 21 wooden boxes designed by Turner Prize-winning UK sculptor Antony Gormley.

At the beginning of Sutra, Cherkaoui and a boy monk sit on top of one of the boxes placed at the edge of the stage, hunched over a miniature model of the set. They reconfigure the model boxes into various patterns and forms, foreshadowing what the audience is about to witness. Soon enough, the two are sucked into the life-size world onstage where the kung fu-trained warrior monks reign supreme, engaging in a dizzying fusion of whirling combat and meditative stillness. Powerful kicks alternate with daring backflips and spectacular jumps off the man-sized boxes.

Suddenly the monks execute Tai Chi-style movement sequences with great poise and grace. The boxes are dragged, lifted and heaved into an array of configurations that are as quickly destroyed as they are constructed. The multi-functionality of the boxes allows them to transform into everything from coffins, hiding spots and shelves to bunk beds, lotus flowers and skyscrapers— ideal for the monks to hide in, spring from, balance on or topple like dominoes.

As for Cherkaoui, during the first half of this East-meets-West extravaganza, he appears to be an onlooker, a visitor in a foreign community drawn into its microcosm. It is not until later in the piece that he engages in more direct interactions with the monks, such as a breathtaking dance-off, displaying his own extraordinary flexibility that at times takes on near-contortionist dimensions. For all its action-packedness, Sutra is infused with a beautifully measured humour often stemming from the interactions between Cherkaoui and the boy who acts like a liaison between him and the monks. This is a powerfully poetic, deeply human work. It is easy to see why it has attracted more than 100,000 people to performances all over the world. (See also Douglas Leonard’s review.)

Asphalte Asphalte
photo Ian Bird, courtesy Sydney Opera House
asphalte

So far, French choreographer and dancer Pierre Rigal has been known to Sydney audiences only through his intricately structured solo creations performed in a highly physical, almost acrobatic movement style. In Asphalte, he joins forces with five non-professional street dancers whom he selected during auditions in Paris in 2009. The youthful energy and commitment the hip-hop artists bring to the work is infectious and one of its biggest assets. They break, pop, lock and krump, like urban warriors, through a series of semi-narrative scenarios depicting modern street life.

As often is the case with hip-hop dancers, the physical feats seem to defy the laws of nature and perceived anatomical restrictions. Individual body parts are isolated, as if with a life of their own, moving in sharp angles one moment and dripping with liquidity in the next. Asphalte is set against a giant light box that glows in ever-changing colours, bright and saturated. The dancers are often silhouetted which makes them appear like comic-strip characters. As the work progresses, humanity is further contested as scenarios turn more absurd and even monstrous. Bodies get ‘blown up’ and deflated like balloons, fingers attack a dancer’s head like leeches, shoot-outs are simulated. The movement becomes increasingly machine-like, transforming the dancers into strangely deformed creatures battling urban reality.

Asphalte’s colourful pop-art aesthetic and the sophisticated lighting design make this a beautiful, positively slick production. The explorations of modern street life often border on the gimmicky, however, and the piece’s structure becomes predictable after a while, with each of the dancers executing a solo and then being joined by the group in some sort of confrontation, sometimes playful, sometimes latently violent. Asphalte is nonetheless a highly entertaining dance work, attracting audiences who might not usually attend contemporary dance performances.

Singular Sensation Singular Sensation
courtesy Sydney Opera House
singular sensation

Singular Sensation marks the welcome Australian debut of Israeli choreographer Yasmeen Godder. Together with her five dancers, Godder explores how, in a world characterized by relentless activity and overstimulation, physical experiences become more and more extreme in order to register on the increasingly numbed mental scale of sensation. Dressed like oversexed teenagers, in mini skirts and tight pants and with fake red finger nails, the dancers strut the stage, hell-bent in their search for thrills. Self-consciously, they look around to see if they are being watched. Real interactions seem to have become impossible and are doomed to fail, drowning in dysfunction. This futility is reflected in the movement language. Apart from half-heartedly executed lifts and fleeting moments of synchronized movement, there seems to be no dance left in the dancers. Instead they slap themselves, stick their tongues out, flutter their eyelids and grimace wildly. They smear their bodies with green paint and red jelly and wrap their heads in pants and their faces in clingwrap. Their insecurities end in self-obsession that prevents any sense of release. Their actions might become more random and messy, but certainly no more debauched or wild. Admittedly, this makes for rather bleak viewing. What is impressive about Singular Sensation, though, is that Godder sticks to her guns and resists trying to make the work palatable. Her conceptual rigour is matched by the physical commitment of her dancers.

Quite different from crowd pleasers like Sutra and Ashphalte, Singular Sensation is not for everyone, but its inclusion in Spring Dance was crucial. It is vital that Australian audiences are not only exposed to international hits but are given the opportunity to discover new and important dance practitioners whose work has not previously found its way to our shores. I hope Spring Dance will continue with its forward thinking programming.


Spring Dance 2010: Sutra, director, choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, visual creation, design Antony Gormley, music Szymon Brzóska, performers Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Shaolin monks, Concert Hall, Sept 16-19; Asphalte, conception, choreography, lighting Pierre Rigal, set, lighting Frédéric Stoll, Playhouse, Sept 21-26; Singular Sensation, concept, direction, choreography Yasmeen Godder, The Studio, Sept 14-19; Sydney Opera House, Aug 31-Sept 26

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 27

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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