The Adelaide Festival’s three dance pieces this year include two Australian works, as well as the long-awaited return of Israel company Basheva to present Sadeh 21.
The Festival’s big dance event is Batsheva’s Sadeh21, a showcase for Artistic Director/Choreographer Ohad Naharin’s movement language Gaga – which has nothing to do with a well-known musical person, having been developed by Naharin with his dancers over many years. It’s to do with delicacy, he says in a video interview, not just about dancers becoming better athletes, but about listening, being aware of something beyond the athletic side of dance – “something about the soul”. Unlike most dancers, Batsheva’s do not practise or rehearse before mirrors, since Gaga is “about where you are on the stage, and your distance from your colleagues”. It’s about self-awareness. Despite Naharin’s talk of delicacy, his choreography gives his dancers, who are noted for their fluidity, plenty of opportunity for sweeping gestures, explosive jumps, high lifts, rapid stamping and, beyond movement, screams, yells, talk, singing – all to be experienced in Sadeh21. The word means “field” but you’ll have to see it to discover the meaning of 21. The company, based in Tel Aviv and Israel’s premier dance troupe, was founded in 1964 by Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and American modern dance pioneer Martha Graham. Naharin, its leader since 1990, brought two works, Anaphase and Mabul, to Barry Kosky’s 1996 Festival. That impressive Australian premiere led to later visits to Sydney and Melbourne. This time the company is taking in Perth and Sydney. While Sadeh21 is three years old, Shaun Parker’s latest hit, Am I, premiered at the Sydney Festival on January 9 this year. Philosophical about our evolution as social beings, Am I has been ticking away in Parker’s fertile brain for at least seven years, and he tells me over the phone that it took five years to raise the money to produce it. Seven musicians play an eclectic score by his frequent collaborator, Nick Wales, and seven dancers whirling, bending, swaying, pulsing, and manipulating shining metal rods express the rich texture of ideas and emotions. After 17 years as a dancer, internationally (Sasha Waltz in Germany, Meredith Monk in America) and in Australia (Meryl Tankard in Adelaide, Force Majeure in Sydney), Parker freelanced as a choreographer, creating several award-winning works including one of his two outdoor works for Britain’s Cultural Olympiad in 2012. Now he has his own company, a big step forward. “I’ve worked hard,” he says. “It’s been a slow burn over the past 10 years … It took a long time to cross over from dancer to choreographer, to prove to everybody that I could do it.” Standing ovations for Am I, not only on the first night, indicate he and his company are proving the point. Asked which came first, the music or the dance, he has a revealing reply. Not having enough money for music, he began with the dancers. After raising sufficient funds, he took the footage of his choreography to Wales to discuss genres and ideas. “I wanted the music to be some other-worldly fusion – let’s say if society were to deconstruct right now, and if it was to regroup, and form a tribe or a group, and they started to generate new music, what would that music sound like? What do people know from all of their past? What would that new human sound be like?” The band went off to camp at Mittagong in the NSW Southern Highlands, and came back with two-and-half to three hours of music (Am I runs for 80 minutes). “He works a little like me,” says Parker. “We create a lot of ideas, and wait until the ones that really work are looking forward and are dramaturgically coherent.” The dancers come into it too, and Wales and Parker can combine with them to create the work right on the spot. So at times Am I became a three-way collaboration. Close collaboration has been the artistic and personal mode for over a decade for Portuguese Paulo Castro and Flinders Drama graduate Jo Stone, whose Blackout is the one premiere of the three dance performances in the Festival. Stone says the idea has been with her since 2001, when she was in the act of leaving New York just as the planes ploughed into the Twin Towers. She watched a big city coming to a standstill, dazed businessmen getting out of their cars, bewildered. There was a “hint of the end of the world” about it. In Blackout a wedding on a boat is mysteriously invaded by darkness, leading the guests into all kinds of interior questionings and imaginings, about themselves, other people, the world they have been living in. Castro, who scripted Blackout, says yes, it’s choreographed, but it’s not so much dance as “movement with a reason”. But then the cast includes award-winning dancers Larisssa McGowan and Alisdair Macindoe, as well as Stone, who trained in Berlin briefly with Sasha Waltz and Friends and for 10 months with Bhuto expert Anzu Furukawa. While working as a singer and actor in Berlin in 2001, Stone co-created and performed Blue Love with Shaun Parker, which they brought to Adelaide in 2002. In the following year back in Europe she and Castro formed the company Stone/ Castro, which has produced over half-a-dozen theatre pieces, often for European festivals, in Adelaide and elsewhere in Australia. Inbetween they continue to work with such groups as Berlin’s Schaubuehne and Alain Patel’s les ballets C de la B. They base themselves in Adelaide which, Castro says with dancing dark eyes, is “thirsty for our work”, but their festivals productions mean “connections are open to us” overseas as well as at home. He gives a big bouquet to Adelaide Festival’s David Sefton, who “has a European style of programming”. “We pitched the idea [of Blackout] to him,” Stone chips in, and he snapped it up, sight unseen. With a cast that includes Stephen Sheehan, Nathan O’Keefe and Portuguese actor John Romao – all award-winners – who could refuse? Sadeh 21 Wednesday, March 5 to Saturday, March 8 Festival Theatre Am I Dunstan Playhouse Thursday, February 27 to Saturday, March 1 Blackout AC Arts Main Theatre Monday, March 3 to Sunday, March 9 adelaidefestival.com.au