The Truth 25 Times a Second, Perth Festival

Ballet National de Marseille, Heath Ledger Theatre, Perth, February 9

WITH inspiration from Italo Calvino – his 1957 novel The Baron in the Trees – and set design by Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei, The Truth 25 Times a Second comes bearing impeccable intellectual credentials. To what purpose is harder to discern.

The not wildly original idea is, I think, that the individual is constrained and alienated by our impersonal world and wishes to be released. The set is dominated by a tangle of floating ladders which are clambered over, hung from, spun about and added to and subtracted from – a kind of adventure playground or adult jungle gym in which not much fun takes place. When a high-flying ladder represents the tree-tops to which Calvino’s hero retreated there is an idea to grasp, as there is when a woman is festooned with ladders, arranged so they look like a gown with an elaborate train. This happens less often than one would wish.

The Truth 25 Times a Second, Ballet National de Marseilles
The Truth 25 Times a Second, Ballet National de Marseilles

From time to time there are projected images of some of the dancers, an idea that relates to the ballet’s title, which is itself a nod to Jean-Luc Godard’s definition of cinema as “truth 24 frames a second”. As with much else in the ballet, the use of multimedia feels arbitrary. Why this, now? And to what end? It is difficult to say as one episode of movement follows another without feeling essential or destined.

The quality of the 16 superlative dancers is simultaneously a great blessing and huge frustration. They can clearly do anything and at any moment look just grand. It’s just that what they’re doing is swathes of disjointed and not particularly distinguished choreography.

The lack of clarity is presumably the result of the dance-making having been a group effort. It is credited to Ballet National de Marseille’s artistic director Frederic Flamand and the dancers and too often gives the impression of being a collection of things individuals happen to be good at. One man is superb in the air and does wonderful, hang-in-the-air leaps. Others are terrific turners so there are batches of speedy pirouettes. There’s a tiny bit of pointe work and some purely classical shapes, but mostly a more contemporary aesthetic.

The music is a grab-bag, including a bit of Baroque from the most over-used composer in contemporary dance today, Heinrich Biber, electronica from Biosphere, some Stravinsky and so on. All very eclectic and smart; just not very interesting.

This review first appeared in The Australian on February 11

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