Made at Sadler's Wells
The iconic London dance studio bring 'a programme of short masterpieces' to the Grand Opera House
Mark-Anthony Turnage’s staccato string stabs inform each move of Wayne McGregor’s Undance. The ten-strong company face us in muted vest and pants combos, like David Sylvian running a Zumba class. A screen at the back of the stage depicts the same performers, synching beautifully, with their live-action counterparts.
They often appear in rows, like subbuteo players – bouncing, flexing before breaking off into breathless, sensuous combat, feinting and parrying at one another, their bodies weapons. Suddenly they drift away, leaving only two figures on stage, again mirrored by the screen at the back.
This is a slow, sinuous dance, the dancers delicately curling over one another, like passion fish; peeling away, separating. The movement is beautiful here, all long lines, lifts and stretches designed to accentuate the perfection of perfect bodies – all is length and suppleness and elasticity, bodies whirling around each other with that intimate disdain that exemplifies dance.
Other couples appear back on stage, each marked by different personalities. The first markedly distant, another voluble and excited. The lights rise: they are all now back on stage, distracting the attention. Sporadic dancing breaks out like a rash, choreographed but inchoate, floating in your peripheral vision as you struggle to take in this feast.
And then suddenly it’s back to a tight, regimented choreography, back in their fuss-ball formation. Behind them the screens take on an Eadweard Muybridge quality, but ultimately the grid comes to resemble a cage or coop – these are trapped dancers. They break from this uniformity of form one by one, forming a circle under an obfuscating strobe. It is staggeringly beautiful, a Muybridge flick-book, their bodies heavy and dense as statues.
Russell Maliphant’s Afterlight (Part One) was inspired by Vaslav Nijinsky’s drawings, and the piece has a figurative simplicity to it: a single performer dancing beneath a spotlight, revolving slowly, like an art-deco music-box and set to Erik Saties’ 'Gnossiennes' elegant minimalism.
Michael Hull’s lighting is almost a partner to dancer Daniel Proietto’s endlessly unfolding movement, as he stretches and rolls and curls across the floor, constantly reaching for the light. There is something here that only live dance gives you – the constant disconnect between what you are watching: an ideal human body, floating and swaying, twisting like a leaf on the breeze, and it’s human solidity, the pounding of the boards, Gulgec’s occasional sighs and groans as he pushes his body further.
It perfectly fits the bareness of the stage and the paucity of effect. The simple yearning of the protagonist, bathed under a single point of cold light, stripped to the waist, his body striped with shadows. The spins are so fast and so fluid that his extremities blur. At the end of the piece, as the light’s focus tightens and the dancer is swallowed up, there is a single marble limb shining up through the darkness, like a petrified flower.
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun also takes it’s inspiration from Nijinsky, specifically 'L’apres-midi d’un faune'. It is a more playful interaction between faun and nymph, Debussey’s score intercut with Nitin Sawney.
There is a blast of dry ice, a joss-stick mist in front of the idyllic backdrop and a young Siegfried appears, rolling and tumbling, pulling tricky head-spins and curling stretches. A nymph enters stage left, throwing long elegant shapes, feats of extraordinary suppleness.
There is so marked a difference between her elegant sensuality and his exuberant rag-doll flops that when they suddenly come together, echoing each other’s movements, there is an extraordinary frisson. The lights change subtly, becoming at first autumnal, the trees suddenly black cracks from floor to ceiling. The performance is extraordinarily accomplished, full of effects and imagination.
There are three brilliant performances at the Grand Opera House tonight, yet three rather thin ovations echo around the hall; the stalls are practically empty. What is Belfast saying to the world when a production of this calibre can come here and be ignored? This is the best show in town that nobody saw. A real shame.
Visit the Grand Opera House website for information on upcoming dance productions.