info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
Sankai Juku, Kagemi, Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors Sankai Juku, Kagemi, Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors
photo Jacques Denarnaud
THERE IS SOMETHING CHURCH-LIKE ABOUT THE VICTORIAN ARTS CENTRE, WITH ITS MELBOURNE FESTIVAL RITUALS OF MASS ATTENDANCE AND CELEBRATORY APPRECIATION. ROBERT WILSON ENHANCED THIS ELEMENT OF RELIGIOUS CEREMONY IN THE TEMPTATION OF SAINT ANTHONY, LIGHTING ITS CAVERNOUS STATE THEATRE ALONG THE LINES OF A MODERN-DAY CHURCH. HIS CAST OF AFRICAN-AMERICAN ARTISTS DULY PROCESSED INTO THE SPACE IN RICHLY COLORED ROBES, SITUATING FLAUBERT’S WORK ON SAINT ANTHONY WITHIN A PARTICULAR MUSICAL MILIEU.

robert wilson

Wilson’s esteemed collaborator, Bernice Johnson Reagon, exercised her extensive knowledge of the musical/spiritual heritage of African-American culture in writing the music and libretto for this work. Reagon’s background in civil rights, historical research and musical performance gave the production depth and credibility. Its series of songs progressed from the singing of spritiuals through to blues, jazz and into hip hop.

The story is embroidered around St Anthony’s ascetic retreat into the desert. Though pivotal, St Anthony was upstaged by a series of luscious figures and musical numbers embodying the temptations of sin, sex and worldly dominion, all aimed at corrupting the saint’s spiritual purpose. The power of colour, through costuming and Wilson’s characteristic fulsome washes, contrasted with the singularity of white —the sign of spiritual purity. Red, blue, purple, hellfire, sizzling sexual desire, the heat of passion and worldly seduction—I would have definitely opted for the snake over the rather wan St Anthony. The production incorporated a range of performers from young to old, lithe to substantial. If the older performers suggested frailty with their slow movements and walking sticks, their voices resonated with the aged richness of a Chambertin purloined from Flaubert’s celebrated cellar.

sankai juku

While Wilson’s distinctive usage of colour facilitated bold immersive experiences, the palette elaborated in Sankai Juku’s work was much more subtle, a set of tonal variations suited to the refined gestures of Amagatsu’s Butoh work. Kagami, Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors opened with a square floor covered in white flowers, water lilies that were slowly elevated to expose intertwining bodies nestling underneath. The pace of the movement in Kagami invited the kind of visual contemplation often associated with its inspiring ikebana motif.

Although ikebana is sourced from the natural world, nature and culture come together to make art. The chalked bodies that constitute Sankai Juku are living, mobile subjects. Their juxtaposition created tableaux of human, cultural significance. The variations in pace, relationship to a defined field of action, and changing subordination to light and darkness created a level of abstraction that was simultaneously pure and contaminated. The purity of the abstraction was achieved by draining the whole scene of everyday colour, bleeding the mundane out of the movement. And yet, there is a limit to the abstraction of art. That limit was clearly breached in one scene where the performers drew red lines on each other, quietly desecrating the human dignity of the other. Dionysius ruptures the quiet clarity of Apollo. Like many Japanese artforms, this was a very pared back piece, delicate but clear.

merce cunningham

Writing about Merce Cunningham’s work I feel a certain ambivalence. Cunningham was a major influence in the development of modern dance, particularly in the US. He pursued a kind of abstraction and artistic collaboration that lent distinctive contingency to his work, in contrast to narrative forms or naturalist modes of dance. Although Balanchine also worked a kind of abstraction into ballet, Cunningham displaced ballet’s lexicon, incorporating spirals throughout the torso and parallel positions rather than turn-out. One of my difficulties is that, with the advantage of time and subsequent developments in dance, to my eyes, the dancing itself is nevertheless immersed in the legacy of ballet. This was suggested by a kinaesthetic texture in Program A, a terse sleekness to the movement which was enhanced by the choice of lycra, the pace of the movement and the muscular tone of the dancers. How then to afford proper historical respect to Cunnigham’s artistic significance for modern dance whilst dealing with a perception which is formed out of subsequent developments in (post)modern dance?

One way of doing this might be to draw out the differences between the pieces in Program A, which spans a colossal 50 years. Suite for Five was first performed in 1956, whereas eyeSpace premiered in 2006. In the latter work, the audience listened to iPods in order to experience the soundtrack independently of the dancers, to rupture the link between music and movement. The ability to shift between the onstage music and the aural difference of the headphones produced a really interesting experience of the flow and temporality of the dancing in eyeSpace. The sensory effect of the sound impacted on the experience of the movement, raising questions about the perception of rhythm in the body.

Since he has been less mobile, Cunningham has engaged with computer technologies in order to create new work. BIPED, which was first shown in 1999, drew on motion capture technologies to create a beautiful curtain of virtual movement, which was juxtaposed against working bodies in the space. The use of lighting created the feeling that the dancers were appearing from nowhere and likewise receding into nothingness—a nice parallel to the appearance and disappearance of the images. The movement also manifested a silicon syntax that somewhat decentred the ongoing distinctive character of Cunningham’s choreography. All in all, this was an enjoyable and instructive experience. It is rare to see seminal dance work that hails from so many years ago, still alive in the hands of its artistic creator.

European House, Teatre Lliure European House, Teatre Lliure
photo Ros Ribas
teatre lliure

Spanish company, Teatre Lliure presented European House, a contemporary reworking of Hamlet. All the main features are present, the death of the father, appearance of his ghost, seduction of the mother by the brother, a romantic liaison involving the young man. But the mise en scène is different—the drama unfolding simultaneously in an entire house opened up dolls-house style. There is no spoken text but each room is miked for sounds of urination, cooking, washing. We watch the family gathering after the funeral, ‘Hamlet’ taking a shower, the young people listening to music, the brother’s seduction of the new widow. Instead of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy, a message is flashed onscreen—”Choose to live and make changes or simply die in life”—a lesson in cultural critique instead of personal crisis.

This anatomy of bourgeois family life was shown but not spoken. Its presentation of modern-day funereal rites suggested very clear social rituals, which were set against improvised interactions between cast members. This made for a strange piece which was nonetheless compelling. Personally, I found the textual message didactic and simplistic, as if the lack of spoken text had to be compensated for. Instead of Hamlet’s questions, we are challenged from the anonymous vantage of the billboard. Are things that bad that we cannot bear to make our own interpretations without guidance from above? Maybe, maybe not—is that the question?


Melbourne International Arts Festival: The Temptation of St Anthony, direction, set, lighting design Robert Wilson, composer, librettist Bernice Johnson Reagon, State Theatre, Oct 11-14; Sankai Juku, Kagemi, Beyond the Metaphors of Mirrors, director, choreographer, designer Ushio Amagatsu, State Theatre, Oct 18-20; Merce Cunningham Dance Company, Program A, choreography Merce Cunningham, State Theatre, Oct 24-25; European House, Teatre Lliure, director Àlex Rigola, Playhouse, Oct 24-27; Victorian Arts Centre

RealTime issue #82 Dec-Jan 2007 pg. 10

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top