Acrobats climb and fly in physics-defying movements through double helix ladders suspended from the sky. Dancers on crutches vault and sail over the stage without their bodies touching the floor. A rhinoceros plays piano while his twin tries to capture floating tissue sheets of music.
Inspired by the surrealist worlds of Salvador Dali, the Sydney Festival show La Verità takes you into a dream space that is, in turns, funny, sexy, nightmarish – and sometimes simply just gloriously baffling. That great father of the surrealists, Dr Freud, would no doubt approve.
Created by the Swiss-based company Compagnia Finzi Pasca, the show is built around a backdrop Dali painted for a ballet Tristan Fou (“Mad Tristan”), performed in 1944 by New York’s Metropolitan Opera. When Dali’s work was recently found packed away in an old box, director Daniele Finzi Pasca saw an opportunity to resurrect it for the otherworldy space of the theatre; a chance to celebrate the superhuman bodies of contortionists, acrobats and performers who slip in and out of characters like magicians. Beings who live in an alternate world where the normal rules are bent, turned upside down and inside out.
While there is beauty and awe aplenty, the show is also a reminder of how the dream language of surrealism has bled into the everyday world wherever you care to look: from the visual language of Dr Seuss, to drag and mardi gras floats, to the language of advertising, where surreal images are now part of the vernacular. Although the surrealist movement began with revolutionary ideals – and connections to communist parties in Europe – Dali himself was notorious in his pursuit of wealth. He worked with advertisers and, along with Warhol, he appeared in commercials for Braniff International Airways. Perhaps this explains the running joke throughout the show about money and poor struggling creatives, and the auctioning off of his painting to fund a retirement home for “decrepit old artists.”
These spoken word moments take us out of the dream and provide some interpretation. But sometimes you just want to be left to dream. Particularly for highlights such as the one that comes midway through the show, just before the spell-interrupting interval. A procession of regal figures bearing giant dandelions and acrobatic sprites leap and parade as a shower of what looks like champagne corks rain down – as if the partying gods above are holding their annual bacchanalian get together.
La Verità might not be the revolutionary art the first surrealists dreamed of, but it asks us to remember that the creatures and the things that exist in the world always hold the possibility of being arranged in ways that looks completely different to the one we know now.