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Monaco's unwieldy dance fest

Erin Brannigan: Monaco Dance Forum

Sahar Azimi, So Saïd Herzel Sahar Azimi, So Saïd Herzel
Australian work is increasingly registering at major international dance screen events. Narelle Benjamin’s On a Wing and a Prayer and Madeleine Hetherton’s Together have been presented at a number of festivals and Sue Healey’s Fine Line (RT61, p48) took out the Independent award at Coreografo Elettronico in Naples last year. With very few of our independent dance artists being presented overseas, film or video work is a way of having a presence on the international scene. How this will pan out in terms of overseas performance opportunities remains to be seen.

I attended Monaco Dance Forum 2004 to present new Australian films and videos within a meeting for dance screen festivals. There were about a dozen participants mainly representing European festivals from a variety of countries, including Finland, Italy, Spain, Greece, the Netherlands, the UK, Norway and Portugal. Russia, Canada, the USA and Japan were also represented.

A challenged forum

At Monaco Dance Forum 2002, the dance screen component of this enormous event was hosted by IMZ Dance Screen—Europe’s largest dance screen event—and a forum for curators was set up. In 2004 IMZ were not hosting but the Monaco Dance Forum was keen to continue offering a dance screen event, this time focusing on festival organisers rather than producers, television programmers and the filmmakers themselves. The absence of the latter was a significant omission and ultimately diminished the event for everybody involved. Those attending in 2004 were mainly representatives from small to medium sized festivals, who were each given an opportunity to describe their events and present work from their respective countries. The screening of Australian work, which included new films by Peter Volich and Michelle Mahrer, was well received with concrete outcomes for a number of filmmakers.

Overall, the Monaco Dance Forum seems to have run aground regarding organisation and programming. The sprawling event meant that participants stuck more than ever to their particular program. These included: the live performance program that ran day and night and included a one-off performance of Australian Dance Theatre’s Held (RT60, p28); the aDvANCE project on ‘career transition and the professional dancer’ attended by members of the Australia Council’s Dance Board and Ausdance; a forum for works selected from a call for digital projects in which Gideon Obarzanek presented Chunky Move’s Closer installation; and multimedia presentations including Chrissie Parrott’s Trans send project with composer Jonathan Mustard. There were also installations, a workshop on dance and technology led by Johannes Birringer, a scenography conference, the First Job Auditions for young dancers and a dancesport event. For this reason it seemed less like a festival than a series of discrete events run by one organisation clearly stretched to its limits. Or maybe it was only my particular component that suffered from technical hiccups, room allocation hassles and a poorly organised video library.

New tech and no-tech

The performance program seemed, at first glance, to be tied together by the engagement with new technologies—a theme running across the entire festival. This was true of Held, Jyrki Karttunen’s Fairy (Finland), Henri Oguike Dance Company (UK) and Compagnie DO Theatre’s Bird’s Eye View (Russia). But other key performances such as Emio Greco’s opening night work Orfeo ed Euridice (Netherlands/UK), Compañía María Pagès’ performance (Spain), and Gahar Azimi and Emanuel Gat’s trilogy of works (Israel), were not compatible with this theme. As in 2002, the performances were too mixed in style, quality and vision to create any cogent spectatorial experience.

Karttunen visited Sydney in 2001 performing Digital Duende at Performance Space. Fairy is worlds away from that, set in a fairyland with Kartunnen playing an elegant imp desperate to fly. Combining his graceful and incredibly light-footed figure with projections of the character onto transparent scrims created a magical effect that the kids in the audience loved, especially when he bared his bottom on screen. DO Theatre’s performance was an incredibly dated piece of dance theatre grounded in the circus arts and full of World War II imagery. Opening with the plane-ballet footage from Flying Down to Rio (1933), interest was sustained only by some very skilled performers.

Ex-Richard Alston dancer Henri Oguike’s work came for me at the end of a long week of chronic back problems. For this reason I can’t be sure that the heavily percussive quality of the choreography was as irritating as I remember it. I stayed for only 2 of the 4 works which were immaculately framed by ‘modernist’ lighting and video design that is uncredited in the program and on the company’s website. The dancers worked incredibly hard but it showed, and the unrelenting pace had a numbing effect that eventually shut down my ability to ‘marvel’. Music by Shostakovitch and Scarlatti was tackled head on with choreography that rhythmically attacked, adding thumps and stamps to the aural field. Baroque flourishes and parading from court dances sat oddly with this extreme physicality, but it did look and feel fresh, which would account for Oguike’s new status as the darling of the UK dance scene.

María Pagès’ formidable presence was riveting in her company’s epic 2 hour performance. Like a Spanish version of Garland/Minnelli, Pagès’ physique is all limbs which makes her braceo—curling arm flourishes—hypnotising. The overall effect of her towering height, burning expressions and incredible grace is astonishing. But when combined with her signature contemporary twist the artistry seems compromised. A solo to John Lennon’s Imagine brought this to a head while the chorus dancers had few opportunities to show off their flamenco skills, more often dancing as an ensemble in a contemporary, jazzy hybrid form.

All about dancing

The works of Gahar Azimi and Emanuel Gat sat well together. Neither use sets and the choreographers perform in their own works that are all about the dancing. Azimi’s So Said Herzel resembled animated conversations that kept missing the mark. Two interchangeable bald men fought for the attention of a very feisty young woman in this physical piece that had nothing new to say but did have surprising moves, a sparky energy and unforced humour. Gat’s duet Winter Voyage (again 2 bald men) was performed to a Schubert score in high-necked frock-coats and was elegant and serious with a touch of sacred tranquillity. The dancers are not so much partners as point and counter-point in this swirling, seamless dance that, like Akram Khan’s work, stresses the upper body over the lower. And as with Khan’s choreography performed in the same theatre 2 years earlier, the dancers seemed hemmed in by the venue’s small stage.

Opera as dance

Emio Greco’s collaboration with Pieter C. Scholten (Emio Greco/PC) and Opera North of Leeds (UK) was a stark, powerful version of Gluck’s opera, Orfeo ed Euridice. Having seen more dance than any other performing art form, when watching opera and theatre it often seems to me that the performers are remarkably unaware of their physicality. However, like many other recent opera collaborations, this work shifted a huge amount of the focus toward physical performance and mise-en-scene. It opened with a line of characters upstage, Greco and Claire Ormshaw (Amore) moving downstage in a duet. Greco scanned the space before him with small twitching movements and Ormshaw manipulated his progress. Ormshaw moved remarkably easily between choreography and song in a way that the other principals, William Towers (Orfeo) and Isabel Molnar (Euridice), did not. The chorus also seemed uncomfortable with the simple, stylised choreography; the distracting large white robes and matching Robert Smith-style wigs did not help. Orfeo was dressed incongruently in street clothes but with a bizarre hair style combining baldness with long hair which also grew out of his T-shirt sleeve. A chorus of dancers who flurried around Towers completed the ambitious and mostly successful integration of dancers and singers, and their movement echoed Greco’s twitching, sliding, mercurial quality. There were intensely dramatic lighting changes (designed by Henk Danner) and bold silences in this fascinating if slightly awkward production.

Monaco Dance Forum, Grimaldi Forum, Monte Carlo, December 14-18

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 14

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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