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A festival rising in the body of one

Maggi Phillips: Dance

Aakash Odedra, Rising, Perth International Arts Festival Aakash Odedra, Rising, Perth International Arts Festival
photo Chris Nash
All the excitement, audacity and imaginative largesse of the 2015 Perth International Arts Festival seemed to be invested in the two puppet Giants who literally occupied the city for a weekend of this year’s spread of artistic fare. From recordings of the couple’s majestic walk through the streets, it might even be whispered that the dancers, plummeting up and down from great heights to activate the puppets’ walk, actually stole the limelight of the dance on offer across the total program. Well not quite.

Mark Morris Dance Group, Mozart Dances

First up on the dance bill was the Mark Morris Dance Group’s collaboration with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor Colin Fowler and soloist Amir Farid in Mozart Dances. In a collection of three Mozart works, the pianist time-tinkers the keys of the master’s sound journey while Morris’ dancers gyrate, gallop and gesture in a parallel universe of movement manipulation. Both creators tease form, the master composer with what we accord in our enculturated sophistication as musical rigour, while Morris plays around with a dance repertoire which is technically laconic. It is an old game on Morris’ part and the humour does not quite hit the mark. When a male dancer in the third section clamps onto the torso of another male, the audience titters. The joke, a relief after so much characteristic throwaway ambiguity, gives an indication of what Morris’ rebel status may once have been. A single dancer’s freeze on a commonplace kneel over the sparkling momentum of a Mozart phrase should likewise have prompted recognition of a clever subversion of tradition but banality marked the moment instead.

Have these formal destabilisations—and I refer to the second section where there is a pointed show of feminine posturing performed mostly by the males—become so commonplace in more radical deconstructions that we are no longer able to register nuances of an abandoned convention? The production was salvaged to some extent by the live music and the set’s backdrops of brushstroke blotches, wonderfully lit with precision and effect. The dances and dancers, however, fell far short of the promotional material’s assurance of a joyous encounter.

WA Ballet

Apart from the usual appeal of the Quarry’s rock and city-lights’ phosphorescent backdrop, interest in the WA Ballet’s Zip Zap Zoom for dance aficionados centred on a reproduction of William Forsythe’s Steptext, a kind of reverie on male dancers’ desires to pull out all stops on their technical prowess to match the ballerina’s dangerous leg splicing brilliance. The work, consummately performed by the preening and attentive three men in the cast, suffered a similar time displacement as did the Morris presentation, understandably on this occasion, since Steptext represents this prestigious choreographer’s early experimentation in disturbance. With seeming randomness, clipped sound and light interrupted expectations of flow as the men intercut virtuosic moves with gestural nonsense or pedestrian walks and vied for the rather stilted woman’s attentions. It was a little like being exposed to a master on training-wheels in his journey into fragmentation and dismantled expectations as a means to probe the very principles of meaning-making.

Beside the technical vocabulary of the other two choreographers on the program, Daniel Roberts’ Hold the Fourth and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s La Pluie and Zip Zap Zoom, Forsythe’s Steptext appeared childish. Ironically, the WA dancers in the other three works seemed more Forsythe-like than when they tackled the master deconstructionist’s own text of steps. Steptext, as a choreographic idea, however, was more intellectually satisfying than the exuberance and spectacle of Zip Zap Zoom which, playing on computer games, pleased with its high definition LED screen, boisterous dancing and stereotypical gender jokes. In comparison to the Morris dancers, the WA Ballet exuded energy and joy in being there and showing off their stuff.

Askash Odedra, Rising, Perth International Arts Festival Askash Odedra, Rising, Perth International Arts Festival
photo Lewis Major
Aakash Odedra, Rising

A single slim figure undulating between whip-sharpness and tenderness fortuitously recouped the brio, rhythm and promise of a festival. With Rising, Aakash Odedra’s presence and collaboration with an impressive list of contemporary choreographers delivered a sense of celebration awakened in a performance which gathered strength from tradition and experimentation alike, yet was humble and projected humankind as simply strange and remarkable in a world of mystery, beauty and pain. A cast of thousands and the pyrotechnics of the most dazzling spectacular couldn’t have given more. That, I think, was the awe aroused in the first-night audience by Odedra’s beingness. His physicality, virtuosic in certain moments, never lost sight of communication and the power of what the performance medium can bring to our understanding of life. In the beginning of his own choreography in Nritta, he stood reposed in a down-thrust light facing the infinity of darkness before spinning his body on earth and in air in an investigation of Hindu-framed action. The next work, Akram Khan’s In the Shadow of Man, an enigmatic yet extraordinary vision of man trapped within animal and animal trapped in human, shaped Odedra’s physique into a tortuous and grounded vernacular which then transformed into Russell Maliphant’s Cut, where the spectator’s eye was engaged with what can be seen in rapid movement isolated in juxtapositions of light and darkness. These two pieces pointed to an incomprehensibility of thought lying behind what is perceptible through sight. Finally, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Constellation emanated a simplicity wherein Odedra swung and bounced glowing bulbs around the space, returning thought and wonder back to those ancient beginnings where illumination speaks of life and all the possibilities of birth. The journey was an extraordinary achievement on the part of one young man and, also, of a concept which enabled a few choreographers to construct many worlds though his body.

Rather than retrieving ill-considered reputations (Morris) or fledgling experiments in an altered medium of communication (Forsythe), Rising rose to the occasion in the power of one and saved PIAF’s dance program from insignificance.

Mark Morris Dance Group, Mozart Dances, His Majesty’s Theatre, 13-15 Feb; West Australian Ballet, Zip Zap Zoom: Ballet at the Quarry, 6-28 Feb; Aaskash Odedra Company, Rising, Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre of WA,19-21 Feb

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. 14

© Maggi Phillips; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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