Recently landed: Prickly by Nature, Gracia's written response to Sydney Dance Company's double bill, CounterMove, for Fjord Review
Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2010, is a playful sendup of contemporary dance as Stella Gibbons’ 1932 novel, Cold Comfort Farm, is a delicious flapdoodle cliché.
Through Cacti, Ekman is making a sharpened comment on the role of the critic and the overblown language criticism employs. Using humour, clever observation, and refinement, the work is as pointed in its execution as the very cacti that populate the stage, and there in lies the rub: as I attempt to wrangle comment on this piece, performed as part of Sydney Dance Company’s double bill, CounterMove, I cannot do so without feeling like Flora Poste. Where Gibbons gave us dawns that do not merely rise, but creep “over the Downs like a sinister white animal, followed by the snarling cries of a wind eating its way between the black boughs of the thorns,” it is tempting to follow suit.
The novelist Robert Macfarlane, as a way of staying honest, runs his prose through the Cold Comfort Test: “would Gibbons have mocked this paragraph?” So, too, am I, as I re-weigh the already weighed and wonder: am I sounding like Ekman’s imaginary, yet drawn from life, “artsy-fartsy blah blah blah” critic in Cacti? Once you open yourself up to the joys of parody, hackneyed phrases trip off the tongue. And much like the voiceover throughout Cacti, we are all jargon-littering pomposities, guilty of over-writing.
For Matisse, who ‘carved’ into colour, blue was the sound of a gong. For Kandinsky, blue was instead evoked by the sound of the cello, which he played. For the poet Arthur Rimbaud, blue was the vowel ‘O’, and it was a “sublime Trumpet full of strange piercing sounds.” Arranged in a line, Rimbaud’s Vowels (1871), from ‘A’ to ‘O’ in colour read: black, white, red, blue, green. On Sunday night, Sydney Dance Company became a body of sound to the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s sounding body. For one night only in Melbourne, a soundscape became a landscape! And blue was a viola’s arabesque.
Building upon an earlier collaboration, which stemmed from a shared love of the melodic dance work of Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau, the artistic director of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti, and the artistic director of Sydney Dance Company, Rafael Bonachela, have created Illuminated. Three ballets, one from an earlier full-length work re-worked, Project Rameau (which premiered in 2012), and two new pieces inspired by the changing colours and directness of composer Benjamin Britten. Before taking Illuminated to Hong Kong, and further adding to the unexpected glow of a gala performance, neither Project Rameau (in either full or reworked guise) nor the two works which enable Britten’s sound to be ‘seen’ have been performed in Melbourne before. The intrinsic relationship between music and dance, making one where there are two, is in line with Stravinsky and Balanchine, Cage and Cunningham. “If the word and the note are one thing, not two,”—the same can be said of Illuminated’s splendid fare.
'To feel' is where it all begins. It is the thread that binds Choreographer and Artistic Director Rafael Bonachela’s premiere work Frame of Mind to William Forsythe’s Quintett, a so-honest-it-hurts love letter to his dying wife.
Presented side by side, both works, uniquely tender in their fragility, give a physical framework to heartache. Born from the tight knot of personal experience, both works spiral outward and give expression to longing and vulnerability. To be entrusted with something deeply personal yet universal, raw yet understated, is a rare gift.
Opening with Forsythe’s Quintett, which premiered in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1993, it is shown through action and heard through repeated stanza, that a state of longing and a kernel of hope can appear temporarily fixed. And so for 26 beautiful minutes, I found myself suspended within a constant sensory loop as an elderly man sang a simple refrain: Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet.