Dancers clinging precariously from the face of a wall. The giant eyeball of a dance superstar gazing out from a doorway. At some point, let’s talk about the videos at tonight’s Transposition and 6,000 Miles Away.
Again, heads up for another rather long post.
Performed by LASALLE College of the Arts dance students, the former is the festival’s second student showcase and could be seen as complementary to the previous week’s show by their neighbours over at NAFA.
While the difference between the so-called NAFA and LASALLE schools seem to be a bit more blurred in the visual arts side, it’s quite obvious when it comes to dance. Indeed, the shows over the two weekends can be seen as complementary snapshots to their different approaches to dance.
Compared to last week’s The Third Space and its quest for the quintessentially Asian, tonight’s showcase did not ground itself in any geographic specificity (or at least not obviously). Of the four pieces I caught (unfortunately missing the final piece White Light as a result of there having been no intermission and a bursting bladder), two were anchored on specific signifiers and both didn’t really strike me as particularly compelling.
James Sutton’s Salve Regina was taken from the Catholic mass hymn and, with its ballet-based choreography, seemed strangely out of place in the selection (other than, perhaps, to showcase the students’ versatility). Loretta Livingston’s In The Middle Of It, At The Same Time, meanwhile, was a series of meditative mini-pieces that, while having some okay moments, was as hodge-podge as the piece’s soundtrack and really didn’t quite gel for me.
Vary 2 by Albert Tiong was more solid. While the dancing itself could have been tighter, the piece was meticulously constructed and well thought-out. Two male performers dressed up like office workers, negotiated a set of lined-up chairs and a solitary one. Set to a catchy Mediterranean-flavoured soundtrack, Vary 2 at certain points hinted at the tedium of the daily grind and the dynamics of conformity – the occasional fist thrust in the air the simplest, yet most memorable image in the piece.
But the most interesting of the four for me was the eponymous first piece by Roberta Shaw. A live performance (set to treated drum rhythms and with flashing lights) segued into the dance film that begins with the image of dancers seemingly hanging outside the windows of a wall for their dear lives. We then follow them as they perform at various parts of LASALLE’s campus.
The thing with dance film (or at least this particular kind) is that you lose certain things. The dancer/body is flattened and becomes a two-dimensional image on a screen. Its immediate presence is automatically mediated by the video and our experience of it is dictated by something else (the camera, the videographer). It distorts the sense of the body within time and space, as scenes can be edited, movements can be slowed down, and there could be jump cuts. (Not to mention the fact that it could very well mask or enhance the quality of the performance).
But at the same time, it allows us to experience things differently – the camera’s various vantage points allowing us to perceive the shapes and forms of the body in so many different ways.
As when, in the final scene, someone walked out unto the screen and picked up the dancers hanging on the wall, revealing them to be no more than simply lying down on a roof.
Video also came up in 6,000 Miles Away. The triple-bill featured the works of three renowned choreographers in William Forsythe, Jiri Kylian and Mats Ek.
Now I know I should’ve read the fine print more clearly but I went in expecting dance star Sylvie Guillem to perform in all three.
After all, it does say “with Sylvie Guillem” and not “with Sylvie Guillem – but not all the time.”
Instead, she only performed in the first (Forsythe’s Rearray) and last (Ek’s Bye). So yes, I was slightly confused while watching the show.
The title was a nod to the recent tragedy in Japan, but I didn’t see anything that remotely hints at that, unless you count the presence of dancer Kenta Kojiri in Kylian’s 27’52”.
Also, it was supposed to be, in a way, about Guillem’s dance relationship with the three famous choreographers. But again, only Forsythe and Ek actually took the time to write new works for their good friend and collaborator. Kylian’s piece was from 2002 and doesn’t even feature her.
The only thing that explained Kylian’s presence in this triple bill was that Guillem has worked with him before. Just not on anything in 6,000 Miles Away.
That and the fact that the original Sadler’s Wells production earlier this year apparently had one fund-raising night for the Japan tragedy, a laudable effort for all involved (including Kylian).
But in the context of this particular festival? Nada.
So because I felt somewhat cheated and my obsessive-compulsive side couldn’t wrap its head around the incongruity of Kylian’s presence in this particular show (and, what the heck, the entire point of someone taking off her top midway through the piece and dancing nude for no apparent reason whatsoever), I’ll just talk about Forsythe and Ek’s works. Which were the stronger works for me, anyway. Snort.
Wrapped up alternately in dim and blinding lighting and egged on by screeching violins and `80s synth sounds, Guillem and co-performer Nicolas Le Riche performed a series of duets in Forsythe’s Rearray.
Le Riche had his moments, but it was clearly Guillem who ruled. Imagine someone with very good handwriting scribbling in cursive. The result? That would be her very body. Her precise and powerful movements a series of complex, interconnected shapes that gave Forsythe’s cold and clinical choreography a sensuous, organic feel at the same time. Mesmerising.
At the opposite end of the cerebral Rearray was Ek’s Bye. It felt very much like Guillem’s very own “ars danse” (is there such a phrase?) or maybe, as its title suggested, a kind of swan song by an extraordinary talent (she’s in her mid-40s but we hope not).
In any case, there was something majestic in its sweep as it unfolded as pure celebration of Guillem the dancer. To the tinkling of a Beethoven piano sonata, she was all at once loose and precise, playful and purposeful, hardy marionette and fragile human.
And then there’s the whimsical touch of the video. It began and ended with a virtual doorway in the middle of the empty stage, through which we saw, at first, Guillem’s larger-than-life eyeball peeking through. Gradually, she “emerged” from the video into the real world. Throughout the piece, she interacted with this portal of sorts where, at some point, a dog popped up.
It ended with Guillem, after her grand performance, looking poignantly at the people that have congregated within that doorway and finally, re-entering that other world.
In that fleeting instance, Guillem became almost mythic.