Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Australian Ballet in Faster

Thrillingly danced this is a challenging , sleek and exciting contemporary triple bill brought to us by  the Australian Ballet .The company are in top form for this programme which explores elite athleticism, and the cost and triumph of physical prowess .
Commissioned especially for the London Olympic Games in 2012, David Bintley’s Faster which opened the triple bill is a tribute to athletes of all disciplines, with dancers clearly identified in fencing, swimming, running, and various other competitive sports wear. In some ways it is perhaps similar to Champions, another work blending dance and sport , which I saw as part of the Sydney Festival earlier this year.    
But Faster was slightly disappointing and didn’t grab me. We are repeatedly shown the burdens, the strain, and the celebrations behind the sports - aspects usually hidden in dance. Yes, it was terrifically danced and some of the choreography was extremely demanding but it left me emotionally cold. Balletomanes will perhaps pick up references to Ashton’s Monotones and Bourne’s Spitfire as well as Tharp’s In The Upper Room. I did like the witty synchronised swimming segment. During another particularly demanding extremely vigorous section where the female ‘athletes’ are onstage in runners, crop tops and biker shorts in a ‘race ‘, the music suddenly abruptly halts and the dancers collapse and collectively pant -which ballet audiences usually never see. Each duo, trio or small group were able to represent the various Olympic sports showing how the body moves differently for each sport ( fencing , boxing whatever ) – Bintley uses symbolic abstract movements rather than ‘straight’ recreation. here is a tremendous Aerialist pas de deux with seemingly almost impossible Macmillan like lifts and the marathon/race at the end for the full company is most impressive. 
Resident Choreographer Tim Harbour’s atmospheric contribution Squander and Glory begins with a crash and images of ominous undulating black birds.Michael Gordon’s sharp, astringent music – heavy bass and strings of his Weather One -  is relentless and persistent . Harbour is known for his rather unique and innovative choreographic methods – including his preference of ‘bringing the movement to the music’ fully-shaped, instead of allowing the movement to be enhanced ( – controlled ? -)   by the music .
Squander and Glory is loosely based on an essay by French philosopher Georges Bataille, in which he theorizes that excess energy in our physical bodies must unequivocally be used up …one way or another. For Harbour in this case he has created directional changes (often favouring diagonals) and razor sharp like movements highlighting the dancer’s incredible physical agility 14 dancers become 28 in a large mirrored backdrop (by Kelvin Ho) that creates continual body doubles, but also reveals a large abstract triangular sculpture behind, seemingly hovering in space – but we eventually discover that the ‘floating sculpture’ is cleverly suspended behind a semi-sheer reflective screen. The houselights come up at one point and the audience sees itself reflected in the mirror… rather unsettling .There is a hypnotic cascade of the dancers at one point ,even more enhanced by the mirrored projection. Harbour’s demanding choreography includes slo mo, rather feline stretching , sometimes birdlike and at other points deep lunges,  straight stretched arms and some robotic like movements . A sensational male pas de deux is included. The circular end of the work perhaps reminded me of Macmillan’s Rite of Spring – or the collapse of energy after the dropping of an atom bomb?   
Wayne McGregor’s Infra is perhaps the most understated work of the triple bill but it is also the most relentless and powerful. Inspired by the London bombings of 2005 it is examines the theme of language’s potential to shape our perceptions but also expresses the loneliness and coldness of living in today’s computer driven self centred world.McGregor’s clear and precise, incredibly demanding choreography establishes moments of intimate connection that as suddenly dissolve .His sinewy choreography creates great shapes in space and demands a very flexible spine and almost bonelessness. His trademark post-modern complex style demands stretched long-limbs in abstract, rather formal movement.Towards the end Julian Opie's hypnotic repetition of walking figures on an LED screen above the dancers eventually fade away which allows the dancers to dominate the stage.
Infra is about quiet interactions and the human intimacies created on stage yet there is a great sense of being alone in a crowd .There is rarely more than one pair of dancers on stage at any particular point - as one pair enters, another leaves, or if they do share the stage ,they are bleakly separated . After tiny moments of unity, whether linking through tragedy or joy the return to isolation is even more touching. In this work it is not just the physicality that is important, but rather that we become aware of quiet stillness and softness, the dancers displaying vulnerability as well as ferociously brilliant technique .
All three works demonstrate that athleticism relies as much on technical control and restraint as muscular energy. The triple bill takes us on an emotional journey from the flamboyant spectacle of Faster to the bleakly powerful experience of Infra with amazing artistry and grace.

Running time 2hrs 15 (roughly ) including 2 intervals
Faster runs at the Sydney Opera House  7-26 April 2017
Choreography and Production:
 David Bintley Guest Repetiteur: Patricia Tierney Music: Matthew Hindson Design: Becs Andrews Lighting Design: Peter Mumford  
Choreography: Wayne McGregor Music: Max Richter Set Design: Julian Opie Costume Design: Moritz Junge Lighting Design: Lucy Carter Sound Design: Chris Ekers
 Tim Harbour Music: Michael Gordon Set Design: Kelvin Ho Lighting Design: Benjamin Cisterne

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