The Rite of Spring/Petrushka

Fabulous Beast Dance Theatre, Brisbane Festival, September 26.

MICHAEL Keegan-Dolan’s Rite of Spring does honour to the most unsettling dance score in history. The Fabulous Beast founder and choreographer doesn’t shrink from nature at its most primaI, red in tooth and claw, but understands that while a community can be full of darkness and harm, it has self-healing powers too. This is a wondrous work.

As snow falls on barren ground, roughly attired men and women sit primly and formally in a row. They are country folk, people of no special standing or distinction, clutching cardboard boxes – marked “fragile” – in the manner of refugees waiting obediently for their orders. Soon, under the controlling eye of a witchy long-haired woman (Bernadette Iglich), they will shed inhibitions and clothes and let repressed urges well up.

Anna Kaszuba in Michael Keegan-Dolan's The Rite of Spring. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

Anna Kaszuba in Michael Keegan-Dolan’s The Rite of Spring. Photo: Ros Kavanagh

They drop their pants and hump the cold ground as if trying to fertilise it; they grab a woman from the group to harry, threaten and then dismiss; the group will also turn on an old man (Bill Lengfelder) who so far has been a passive observer. Frightening dogs-head masks with lolling tongues make a nod to ancient cultures and simultaneously evoke the harsh rural life Keegan-Dolan so acutely observes, showing men at their most menacing and animalistic. And of course the group dances, in fierce stamps, jumps and circles as sisters Lidija and Sanja Bizjak play ravishingly, on one piano, Stravinsky’s version of his score for four hands.

It’s 100 years since Nijinsky’s ballet to Stravinsky’s music made its noisy entrance into the world and during that century there have been more than 100 other dance versions. Few have the staying power of the score, and Keegan-Dolan’s version deserves to be one of the keepers. He has a great gift for creating an enclosed group with all its quirks, secrets, anxieties and connections. It is not surprising to see his Rite end in an unusual way that exalts the society he depicts and its ability to renew. The Chosen Maiden (Anna Kaszuba) is full of passion, strength and resolve, wearing her white undies as proudly as a priestess’s robes.

Petrushka, which follows, is a more abstract piece that touches on – if one has knowledge of them – key characters and moments in the original libretto. It’s possible to discern the anguished puppet, the empty-headed ballerina and the boastful moor, although the roles shift around. Again Iglich is a controlling figure, this time sitting very high up on a pedestal offering judgment on various relationships. Lengfelder again observes, taking part only right at the end, but he and Iglich are potent reminders of Keegan-Dolan’s embracing, practical idea of community, in which there are people of all ages, sizes, shapes and colours.

Petrushka takes place in a white box, the dancers wear all white and there are many sections danced in unison. Texture comes from the beautiful diversity and charisma of the company and the often ecstatic nature of the movement. Colour comes from the score, again played in a four-hand version by the Bizjak sisters, assisted by some clamorous drumming from two of the dancers. There is a disconnect between the evocation of the fairground in Stravinsky’s music and designer Rae Smith’s empty space, although I found it a stimulating one, needing to keep two lines of thought going at the same time.

There’s only one line of thought about the ending, however. It is dramatic, theatrical, inspiring and absolutely in tune with Petrushka’s fate.

Rite of Spring/Petrushka, Melbourne Festival, October 11-14.

Versions of this review appeared in The Australian online and in The Australian on September 30.

Rising

Aakash Odedra Company, Brisbane Festival, September 27.

IN Rising, young British dancer Aakash Odedra presents four solos, one by himself (exquisite) and the others from Akram Khan, Russell Maliphant and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. That towering trio of dance-makers says it all. The evening may be very brief – perhaps 45 minutes of dance in all – but the quality is exceptional and there was no feeling of being short-changed. Quite the reverse.

Aakash Odedra in Nritta. Photo: Nisha Kajal Patel

Aakash Odedra in Nritta. Photo: Nisha Kajal Patel

Odedra’s credentials are established in the opening piece Nritta, his own work. He is revealed as a man of light build dressed in the long, slender-fitting jacket and trousers that immediately evoke the subcontinent. While all the pieces use elements of the classical Indian dance in which Odedra was trained, Nritta stays closest to the source. Enveloped in murky, diffuse lighting Odedra is all light and blistering speed, like a gambolling, exceptionally elegant sprite. Little balletic little leaps punctuate rapid-fire spins that sometimes come to a sudden stop for a moment of repose then continue on their way, decorated with sensuous upper-body swirls. The mood is prayerful, in a pantheistic, pan-sexual kind of way.

Odedra’s astonishing plasticity is exploited in a very different way in Khan’s In the Shadow of Man. Stripped to the waist, he yelps and writhes like a wounded animal. The swift circling on his knees, wheeling arms, splayed fingers and liquid torso come from Indian classicism but are rendered anguished and ultra-contemporary by Khan. The crepuscular lighting is by Michael Hulls, who also lights Russell Maliphant’s CUT. This piece has many similarities with Maliphant’s Two, in which Sylvie Guillem has appeared in Australia. The dancer is mostly in semi-darkness as parts of the body flicker in and out of the light. In CUT Odedra’s fingers glow like coals, his arms pulsate convulsively and he spins like a dervish as Andy Cowton’s wall-of-sound music ramps up the vibrations.

After these excitements Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Constellations looks uncharacteristically soft-centred. Lights sway across the space and come on and off as Odedra moves amongst them. Again his plasticity is seen to advantage, but the piece itself isn’t really terribly interesting. Pretty, but a wee bit sentimental.

That didn’t stop last Friday’s Brisbane Festival audience from jumping to its feet instantly at the end, something I haven’t previously seen there.

Next stop, Sydney …

Rising, Parramatta Riverside Theatres, Sydney, October 5-6.

Casus, Brisbane Festival

Knee Deep, Brisbane Powerhouse, September 24.

THE four members of Casus, a small Brisbane contemporary circus troupe formed in 2011, have a slightly perverse way of claiming attention. They are, of course, ferociously talented. But so are very many others in this art form, which takes circus tricks and dresses them up with elements from music, theatre, comedy and dance. Unlike others, the Casus performers have what seems to be genuinely unaffected personal modesty. Their acts may be as gasp-inducing as the next circus virtuoso’s but there’s no pretention or triumphalism in the way they are presented. Casus’s Knee Deep is a sweet, affecting show.

The members of Casus

The members of Brisbane-based contemporary circus troupe Casus

Knee Deep opens with Emma Serjeant walking on eggs, a feat shown in close-up on a screen used occasionally and not entirely successfully during the 60-minute piece. We get the idea, though. Life is fragile, a notion Serjeant, Jesse Scott, Lachlan McAulay and Natano Fa’anana proceed to demonstate via some exceptionally spiffy, mostly dangerous acts. Want to see a supine man flipped 180 degrees via his head? It’s here, along with the expected routines – ropes, pedestals, balance, strength, tumbling, people twirled and thrown as if pieces of pizza dough, that sort of thing.

Casus also has a few unexpected tricks. Scott gives a luminous example of hoop work: he uses just one hoop, not 15 whizzing around every part of the body, and it’s a delight. In a cone of light, Fa’anana presents an intricate Samoan slapping and stamping dance; McAuley walks across the shoulders and entwined arms of his colleagues; Serjeant pokes a slender rod right up her nose and then expels it (okay, that bit I didn’t like so much, but at least she doesn’t make a huge deal of it).

Knee Deep would feel tighter with a better integrated score. You can’t fault Casus for using Gil Scott-Heron’s super strong New York is Killing Me for Fa’anana’s magisterial aerial turn on the silk ropes, but then a crooning French ballad?

But this is a small point in light of Knee Deep’s finale, in which all four work a single trapeze in many daring and beautiful combinations. It illustrates comprehensively the way much contemporary circus aspires to be an aesthetic experience rather than a purely physical one.