Bodytorque

Stage

Bodytorque theatre review

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Bodytorque is The Australian Ballet’s annual step into the future of dance, aptly promoted as ‘a new movement in ballet’. It’s been kicking around for going on a decade. The nominated focus for this season’s work was technique. Classical ballet technique, can, I suppose, be limiting, or liberating, depending on a choreographer’s conceptual approach to it. It’s the beginning and the end. The medium for all movement.
The gist of the idea is to loosen the choreographic reins and pass them to a judicious selection of up-and-comers. Bodytorque works as a sandpit, or laboratory, in which they can play and experiment with new chemistry. Artistic director David McAllister is to be congratulated for his generosity in shining the spotlight on six new talents. These include two former (Joshua Consandine & Benjamin Stuart-Carberry) & four current (Ty King-Wall, Halaina Hills, Richard House & Alice Topp) AB members. All making their Bodytorque debuts, save for Topp, who’s already enjoyed success twice previously.
As with opera companies, symphony (and other orchestras and mainstream theatre companies), ballet can sometimes be seen as stuffy and conservative (after all, it’s been around since Louis XIV); a closed circuit, rather than one open to new electricity.
But Bodytorque serves to position the AB at the cutting edge; as a risk-taking innovator. This is exemplified in twenty-two-year-old House’s Finding The Calm, which seeks to blur the boundaries between ballet and contemporary modalities. In the flesh, this means playing with the symmetry that tends to characterise the classical, softening it with round, fluid shapes more in tune with the way the body actually moves. It makes for a captivating tension: a witting or unwitting portrayal, perhaps, of the internal battle between the perfectionist, obsessed with structure and linearity, and lazybones, given to languid responses, that reside, uncomfortably, side by side, most probably, in us all.
There is surprising maturity and confidence in the work, too. House knows when to keep his dancers still, in static counterpoint, to emphasise and enhance the moves they make, which he imbues with a bold, uncompromising sensuality. It’s refreshing to see a choreographer attuned to the halting beauty of negative space, be it physical, temporal, or both. The dancers tread this difficult line, between line and ellipse, with the utmost precision. Indeed, said precision and absolute surety was the order of the night, with nary a falter or hesitation. As with the other pieces, too, lighting and costume are inextricably woven into the fabric of the performances. This is collaboration at its finest. The lowering and raising of the lighting rig created tension, in an almost cold, dystopian, future imperfect, Blade Runner way, while the suggestive white outfits and dramatic, almost acrobatic postures dared bodies to break, rather than merely bend. There was certainly a notion of nudging the boundaries; trusting, testing, trying the outer limits of technique.
All this, set to JC Bach.
Stuart-Carberry’s Polymorphia, at least in a sense, seemed to tune into the notion of internalised conflict: those little voices that compete for attention, argue and can become disturbingly loud. Featuring a female duet, it delves into the technical, taking ‘two opposite movement rules from the balletic vocabulary, to look at symmetrical and asymmetrical balance’, but, happily, this academic dryness isn’t apparent in the piece itself, which is enlivened by performative intensity and, in its strictly disciplined way, spectacularity. Effecting focus by way of (again, futuristic) twin beams of light, the dancers moved in opposition to each other, two sides of the same coin, or identical twins individuating.
Ty King-Wall is the youngest principal artist in the company. The emphasis might be more on young, than principal, in this case. Though, again, it’s enough to admire the form of the dancers (Chengwu Guo being a prime, but far from the only example), King-Wall has gone for too much, methinks, conceptually. The Art of War might sound intriguing and as if it has a thematic holism, but K-W has clutched at too many straws and dropped the bundle. Chivalry, capoeira, postwar trauma. It’s all too much, whereas the focus might’ve been on a more emblematic exploration of conflict. He seems to have been deflected by personal enthusiasms to the work’s diminution; bearing in mind, my red pencil is very much sharpened, in making these criticisms. Where I or others find fault, many, or most, will see sheer excellence.
Mode.L is coryphee Halaina Hills’ plunge into abstractionism. Make of it what you will. In the spirit of Mondrian, Kandinsky, Picasso, Matisse and Stravinsky, Hills seem to take a playful brush to the canvas of Stravinsky’s Octet for Wind Instruments, (as with much of the music) played live and skilfully, if not sublimely, by a pit chamber orchestra, under the guest baton of Simon Thew. The backdrop of chorological notation certainly took us into the nitty-gritty of technique. Like Stravinsky’s where musicians were concerned, Hills seems to be acutely conscious of her power to use dancers as instruments of her ideas. Conversely, like Balanchine, she also seems awake to their intelligence and sentience, which she exploits in subtle ways, such as by affording each a ‘honey, I shrunk the’ solo.
In-Finite, perhaps by dint of Consandine’s experience with both the AB and Sydney Dance Company, melds the classical and contemporary (a direction House was also heading in), with a keen sense of humour, to boot. Fortunately, again perhaps by dint of judgment born of experience, he never let this descend into slapstick. It was as if he was taking us into the rehearsal room to glimpse, like voyeurs craning our necks to see through a tiny window, the gruelling process that finally results in a ballet. The thrills. The spills. The overstretched hammies. Amidst this, though, he interposed a considered and cohesive exposition of technique. The only real question was, were these fit dancers trying to work together, or parts of the one, trying to get it together? It worked either way.
My chosen one, though, was Alice Topp’s Tinted Windows. I might’ve seen things as romantic, but I doubt I’ve seen much, if anything, moreso. In imbuing her piece with (forgive me) an immense, intense sense of longing, she definitively demonstrates that technique is nothing without feeling and feeling nothing without the level of technique of which few dancers, outside the AB, are capable. And Toni Maticevski’s costumes were surperlative.
In the end, any reservations about the work are mere quibbles for a thoroughly spoilt audience. The AB may not have reinvented the wheel with Bodytorque 2013, but it’s afforded homage to many of the great choreographers, past and present, with thoughtful and cultivated variations. There were moments when, by reason of technical prowess or an overpowering, primal rush, one was prone to a sharp intake of breath, whispering ‘wow!’ Better yet, it’s pointed to a whole new generation of fast-blossoming choreographers.
[box] Bodytorque played Sydney Theatre from October 31 to November 4. [/box]

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