06 September 2013

Superstars slightly deflated

By: Sacha Knox

In a first for South Africa, Introdans (Holland) delivered a repertoire of technically brilliant neo-classical ballet performances to the stage of the 15th Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience. This repertoire consisted of: ‘Polish Pieces’ by Hans van Manen, ‘Evening Songs’ by Jiří Kylián, ‘Pas de Danse’ by Mats Ek, ‘Anaphase’ by Ohad Naharin, and ‘Sinfonia India’ by Nacho Duato. There was a real sense of excitement as the audience swelled into the Sneddon; smartly dressed couples, parents with children, groups of women beautifully adorned, their hair in extravagant swoops. I could not help but feel a sense of the magic of the ballet; nostalgia for some of my first theatre experiences, a smudge of that awe able to immediately dissipate stubborn-faced- frown for fancy dress.  

And yet, despite this, I have to admit that I left feeling slightly deflated. Perhaps this had something to do with the format in which, practically speaking, none of the elaborate costuming and scene setting, typical to classical ballet, could occur- aspects that contribute to suspension of daily banality, to engulf of experience. However, in this observation perhaps lies a nub- I am not sure that that the ‘neo’ was successfully negotiated within this repertoire- the dominantly classical dance style almost called for some of that exuberant excess but was paired down to a place in which I am not sure that experimentation  or the ‘contemporary’ was sufficiently present to strike a balance. Unfortunately I felt this in the themes as well- the narratives of classical ballet often move in elaborate plot, twist and turn to snap up the audience. Without this, these pieces were somewhat skeletal, left the gendering of classical ballet painfully glaring. In fact, all of these pieces spoke to interactions between men and women as embodiments of dominant masculinities and femininities. Most tragically, for me, was a sense that no human interactions could be thought of without or imagined beyond this. Over-sexualised gestures were particularly present in Ohad Naharin’s ‘Anaphase’, and superficial, stereotypical feminine violability, and lack of agency, played out painfully in Jiří Kylián ‘Evening Songs’.

It is a pity that these aspects overshadowed the experience for me because the dancers were, indeed, strong-centered and brilliant, executing each and every movement in perfect synchronisation, effectively masking any efforts of the masterful. My critique being stated, Mats Ek’s ‘Pas de Danse’, brought a frivolity and humour which the audience seemed to revel in, and Nacho Duato’s ‘Sinfonia India’ was accomplished and effervescent. In the end, it seemed that for most, any unfavourable observations were subdued to the beauty of bodies, exceptionally polished and poised, as the audience rose in standing ovation.   


Anonymous said...

Standing in front of a Mondriaan painting andcomparing it to a Rembrandt...A critic should check backgrounds. If you hear the word ballet and only images of fairies and large sets come up in your mind, then you have missed a century of development of the art of ballet. The shown works are of course subject to your taste, but nevertheless all choreographers of this programme belong to the top ten of the heritage of modern ballet...an easy check on the internet would have proven that!

Amber said...

I think the commenter above misinterprets the writer's message. They are not saying that they are expecting classical form of ballet and were disappointed with the "neo"-classical aspect of it. They seem to be saying that the "neo" seemed to lean too heavily upon the "classical", in such a way that stripped of it's other classical elements came across as less evocative and more problematic.

Also the writer did not seem to disrespect the choreographers expertise rather the way in which they interpreted the "neo-classical" genre in this instance.

I may be wrong, but that is what I took from this piece.

Jomba! Contemporary Dance Experience