Festival Dance

This year’s Adelaide Festival dance program is a showcase of dance legends and Festival veterans.

At a time when most ballerinas have hung up their shoes and taken to teaching or something else, at 47 Sylvie Guillem is commissioning choreographers to create works for her to perform before adoring crowds. And not just ordinary choreographers – for 6000 Miles Away that she is bringing to the Adelaide Festival she chose Jirí Kylián, Mats Ek, and William Forsythe, who created In the Middle Somewhat Elevated for her way back in 1987. Famous in the classics, a protégé of Nureyev, who made her at 19 the youngest ever étoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, we last saw Guillem in the 2008 Festival with Akram Khan in their compelling duet, Sacred Monsters, his Kathak movement driving into the earth, contrasting, arguing with her airborne balletic lightness, both astonishing in their speed and sinuosity. Her performances have been glowingly praised in this new program, which premiered in London in July last year. Though some of the choreography was lambasted, whatever she dances, Guillem is a superstar.

As is another veteran, Canadian Louise Lecavalier, still dancing at 54 no less.  Inspiration for Montreal choreographer Edouard Lock and lead dancer in his company La La La Human Steps from 1981 to 1998, she excelled in Lock’s high energy, sometimes violent, works and is joined by former La La La colleague Keir Knight for A Few Minutes of Lock, which includes a brief burst from Human Sex (1985).  But the main piece on the70-minute program is Children (2009), created by Nigel Charnock, co-founder of DV8 (Adelaide Festival 1996, 2008), who died last August at only 52. An explosive exploration of an evolving relationship, it is danced to music from such as Miles Davis, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen and Maria Callas. 

It will be more than interesting to compare Lecavalier’s style with what we will be seeing from Larissa McGowan, whose choreographic star is rising fast. A multi-award-winner, she will be appearing in her newest work, Skeleton, alongside four other dancers. Her first long piece, it was inspired by the work of artist Ricky Swallow, and examines how human bodies interact with previously experienced objects. Considering her long association with Australian Dance Theatre, it will be fascinating to see to what extent, if any, McGowan has been influenced by Garry Stewart’s use of technology and athletic choreography in which she has so dazzled audiences. 

From something brand new to something from the contemporary dance archive – Wim Vandekeybus’s What the Body Does Not Remember, acclaimed as groundbreaking at its premiere in 1987, and brought back into the repertoire only recently. The New York Times’ Anna Kisselgoff called it “Tough, brutal, playful, ironic, and terrific”, “extraordinarily innovative” and a “mind-boggling display of intense physicality”. When I asked him in a recent phone conversation why he wasn’t bringing his latest work, Booty Looting, he replied, “You’ll have to ask [Festival Director] David Sefton that. I would have liked to have come with the first piece and the last [but] I think it’s a good strategy  …. David will be here for several Festivals, and he’s thinking I will come later with another work.” Vandekeybus has made 27 pieces, all very different – “I would like to bring them all to Australia”, he said – but the first shows his basic interests: violence, instincts, emotions, reality – it’s about how the body reacts in certain situations. He has been in Adelaide before, as a naked king in Jan Fabre’s The Power of theatrical Madness in the 1984 Festival. Then 24, he left Fabre soon after and in 1986 formed his own group, Ultima Vez (Last Time), developing his own physical, confrontational style. Most recently he has been making a film in Hungary, which he characterises as “a disaster” at present, but a “very interesting country”. 

Another filmmaker, Spain’s Carlos Saura, finishes the Festival dance program with Flamenco Hoy (Flamenco Today), a spectacular extravaganza guaranteed both to have the audience on its feet at the end and to displease the purists.  Saura combines flamenco with ballet, jazz and other dance forms, while keeping the essential elements of flamenco song and music.  

David Sefton has netted some big names, and it’s an exciting prospect. Let’s hope Wim Vandekeybus is right and Ultima Vez will be back later with their newest work. And another opportunity awaits. Apart from the Australian Ballet’s annual visit, Adelaide misses out on good classical companies – the touring Russians’ are second rate at best – and there is a very good company close by. Ethan Stiefel, former brilliant star of American Ballet Theatre, now directs the Royal New Zealand Ballet and the reports are that he is a great success. But he will not be there forever. Why not bring him, his dancers and their marvellous new production of Giselle over in 2014?

Adelaide Festival

Friday, March 1 to Sunday, March 17



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