Trois Grandes Fugues
Lyon Opera Ballet
Dunstan Playhouse March 6
Space Theatre March 14
DV8 Physical Theatre March 14
The final three dance works reviewed here testify to the tremendous variety in the 2020 Festival dance program, as they range from neo-classicism to postmodern dance, and from hip hop to dance theatre.
Lyon Opera Ballet’s triple bill Trois Grandes Fugues consists of works by three female choreographers that interpret the final movement of Beethoven’s Quartet No 13 in B-flat major, commonly referred to as the Grosse Fugue. The neo-classical idiom of the first, "A Devilishly Classical, Arachnoid Fugue", by American Lucinda Childs, is a surprise, given that Childs’s work is usually in the postmodern vein. Six couples, the women dressed in grey unitards, the men in grey tops and pants, repeat patterns of movement with variations. Diagonal lines predominate, with sissonnes and arabesques in efface alignment, punctuated with the motif of one arm raised in fifth position. The title’s “arachnoid” may be an allusion to the filigree pattern projected onto the cyclorama, but equally it may refer to the complex web of movements in which the dancers are enmeshed.
Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s “A Grand, Precise, Male Fugue” contrasts greatly with Child’s cool classicism. Despite the title, it features two women plus six male dancers, all dressed in black suits and white shirts, on a bare stage under large swinging light bulbs. De Keersmaeker’s choreography is largely floor based, with the dancers rolling onto the floor and springing up from it repeatedly and log rolling across the front of the stage, interspersed with extended runs arounds its perimeter. Duets and solos give way to ensemble work, and the movement style is almost jazzy with its freely swinging arms, syncopation and flowing energy.
The final interpretation, Marguy Marin’s “A Highly Nuanced Grosse Fugue”, has a cast of four women, clad in red dresses or skirts and tops with their hair down, and is as idiosyncratic as could be expected from this choreographer. Starting in darkness, sudden light sees the dancers run onstage. Marin’s choreography features repeated changes of direction, particularly backwards and forwards, as well as changes in bodily emphasis. Whereas in the beginning the focus is on the upper body, with torsos flung forward and no jumps, this is succeeded by a section with the arms are held by the sides and footwork reminiscent of Irish dancing. This in turn gives way to a passage of almost ragdoll-like rocking and rolling as the dancers sit on the floor and the edge of the stage, slapping their thighs. Maguy’s work is gestural and emotive, and contrasts wonderfully with the other two pieces. This is an exciting program that demonstrates the rich interpretative possibilities of Beethoven’s difficult music.
Nick Power’s Two Crews, the second of his hip-hop works shown at the Festival, is presented in a traverse seating arrangement, a more theatrical staging than the traditional hip-hop circle he used in Between Tiny Cities. As the program notes state, being in a crew is the “cornerstone of hip hop culture”; a crew is its own democratic dance unit in which members “build skills, rock shows, battle rivals and turn the party out”. The two crews of the title are “Lady Rocks”, an all women crew from Paris founded by Léa Cazauron in 2012 that works in a form called “top rock” more usually practiced by men, and “Riddim Nation”, a mixed gender Sydney crew that draws on a range of street dance styles to “deliver an expressive energy of positive vibes and joy”.
They certainly live up to the hype, as the crews alternatively strut their stuff, members egging each other on and attempting to outshine the other crew. After a number of solos, duets and quartets drawing on a range of street styles including popping and locking, they form one big crew whose exuberance is an absolute joy to watch. In this work, as in Between Tiny Cities, Power demonstrate a rare ability to transform street dance into an entertaining and uplifting theatrical experience.
Lloyd Newson’s dance theatre work Enter Achilles was created 1995 but has been re-imagined in the wake of the #metoo movement and the rise of the far right in Britain. Beginning with the dancers high above the stage, their flowing, expressive movements morphing into macho gesturing, the focus soon shifts turns to a man downstage caressing a plastic sex doll. Most of the action takes place in the pub, where endless rounds of lager fuel interactions between the eight male characters, who stamp out any suggestion of homoerotic attraction relentlessly, although they can’t seem to stop touching each other. The focus on the policing of masculinity through violence, ridicule and shaming is unchanged from the earlier version, but there are added monologues and television snippets referencing the British nationalism underpinning Brexit as well as the recent resurgence of feminism. The cast is superlative, giving a layer of characterisation rarely seen in contemporary dance, as well as dancing superbly.
Enter Achilles remains one of the master works of the dance theatre repertoire, as relevant today as it was twenty-five years ago.
In the light of Covid-19, next year’s Festival, if it is staged at all, is likely to contain far more Australian content. Let’s hope our fantastic dance sector can not only survive the current crisis but draw on it to create new work that reflects the unprecedented times we find ourselves in.
- MAGGIE TONKIN
See Karen van Ulzen's interview with Lloyd Newson here.