State Theatre Centre, Perth
Friday, June 23
The West Australian Ballet’s 2023 season of “STATE” provides a platform for two bold and unapologetic contemporary works. Gainsbourg and Slow Haunt have little in common; aptly separated by a short interval, Adam Alzaim’s Gainsbourg (with Polly Hilton as Dramaturge) is a captivating whirlwind of absurdity and disorder, whereas Melanie Lane’s Slow Haunt is a deep descend into the underworld. Despite their differences, both are clear in their intentions and offer a unique perspective. Artistic Director Aurelien Scannella was wise to choose Alzaim and Lane to head this year’s season.
Set in a bustling Parisian bistro, Gainsbourg loosely depicts the troubled life of Serge Gainsbourg, the beloved yet controversial French music icon. Using Serge Gainsbourg as a muse is a bold choice, considering some of the problematic aspects of Gainsbourg’s career and personal life. However, the work is elegantly presented, not as a celebration of the man, but rather a creative merger of his puzzling public image as well as his own hazy, drunken impression of himself.
The six main characters consist of Gainsbourg (Juan Carlos Osma), his love interests (Asja Petrokvski as Brigitte, Dayana Hardy Acuna as Birkin and Polly Hilton as Lizzie) and nemesis (Brent Carson as Gunter), all controlled by the Maître-démon (Candice Adea). While she has little work to do choreographically, Adea’s characterisation made her a standout. Comically donning Crocs and a French bob wig, Adea was animated and completely committed to her zany role.
The characters are joined by a large ensemble who remain on stage for much of the production, lurking in the shadows when the focus shifts to individuals. The costumes, designed by Alzaim and consisting of high-collared androgynous suits, made it difficult to distinguish between dancers, enhancing the warped and blurry feeling of the performance. While this is a great choice for the overall production, it also made it difficult to distinguish the main characters from the ensemble.
Alzaim’s snappy, energetic choreography incorporates humour through overdramatic facial expressions, awkward silhouettes and the occasional scream. Utterly perplexing and thoroughly enjoyable, Alzaim certainly delivered on his promise of a “whisky-soaked fever dream”.
In a complete change of pace, Lane’s Slow Haunt is moody, sinister and solemn. The performance depicts a colony of humans (eight dancers) thrust into extinction and follows their journey as they morph into beasts of the underworld. Inspired by the wilis of Giselle, Lane has stripped them of their daintiness and delved into the darkness of these disturbed spirits.
This piece is not what I was expecting (especially knowing that Giselle was the inspiration), but I was pleasantly surprised by the grunge and drama. The techno-based score by Christopher Clark evoked a feeling of urgency, and the costumes by Akira Isogawa cleverly depicted the humans’ journey to the afterlife through layers of clothing and bodysuits ever changing throughout the piece.
The choreography is intense and demanding, and the ensemble’s stamina was evident. While the themes of Slow Haunt are not anything new, the production nevertheless felt fresh and exciting.
The lighting design for both works by Damien Cooper considerably enhanced both performances. At one point in Slow Haunt, the entire lighting rig is slowly lowered to near head-height and then slowly raised again. It was an impressive display, while conveying an eerie sense of dread and claustrophobia.
With Gainsbourg and Slow Haunt, “STATE” is an energising display of innovative contemporary ballet.
- ALANA KILDEA
'STATE' continues to July 1.