Sunday, 30 November 2008

the cosmos

Phew! My backlog will finally see the light of day - some shows so great that I have to share them with you:

I have long held a reverence for the classical Indonesian dance forms. The fine control of the limbs and the gaze, the amazing tension with which the dancers shift from one moment to the next turns the space into a tangible substance. I imagine that the air in which they move has become condensed with mythology. Dances created for epics, each phrase flows into yet another development and it seems that it would be simplistic to try and pin down a beginning and an end.

I hesitated only a little before I bought myself a ticket for Infinita, a collaboration of a traditional Javanese dance company with a Korean contemporary choreographer, set to the music of Ligeti. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, since my impression of this contemporary Austrian composer is chiefly from hearing Lux Aeterna (of Space Odyssey 2001) ten years ago - it was discordant, complicated, disturbing stuff to me. Anyway, I wasn't sure I'd be able to handle an hour of that. But I was certainly curious. The performance poster cited an Austrian newspaper critic, "as if they have always been one: Ligeti's music and Javanese dance..." Well, really?

The dance began with a classical enough setting and costumes, an ensemble of five men and one woman, formal patterns set to Ligeti's mercurial piano etudes. The natural harmony in the shifting patterns of that classical dance form, that vision of a universe in flux, does indeed sit well with the whimsical musical phrasing. And what exquisite dancers! Lithe and soundless, they took you through the evening from the traditional to brightly idiosyncratic solos, duets and trios where the classical aesthetic blended with quirky character pantomime and some rather contemporary leaps and turns. They executed with incredible control and personality. Then drawing back to a more classical idiom, three men emerged with a large gilt chair. In near suspended motion, they tumbled it across the downstage horizontal, transforming it into a hillside, a palanquin, a fort and a throne for a monkey king.

The vignettes by the javanese dancers were spliced with interludes by a tall, pale Korean lady who seemed to be a projection from another dimension. Surreal in her whiteness, remote baldness and some incredible costumes reminiscent of Queen Amygdala, she suspended time and space intensely somewhere between the Javanese classical technique, contemporary and Korean dance. In the finale, both she and the Javanese dancers appeared on stage together for the only time. It appeared she would conquer the ensemble on a downstage diagonal. Perhaps she was marking the turn of the seasons in the tropical Indonesian climate. I'm really not sure. (I found out only later that the pale lady was actually the choreographer.)

The lights came up after rapt applause; audience members, me included, surged for the door in search of answers on the programme notes.

- Infinita by Sen Hea Ha and Taman Budaya Surakarta Dance Theatre was staged at the Esplanade Theatre Studio on 31 Oct and 1 Nov 2008.

1 comment:

sze said...

Today I found some of my college notes from the course when I first encountered Ligeti. I included a side note under Copland - "return of tonality - Yay!" Incidentally I went back to Lux Aeterna again as I am writing this, and now it seems quite beautiful...