Quality Over Quantity: Adelaide Festival’s 2018 Dance Program

Dance critic Alan Brissenden is impressed with the quality of the Adelaide Festival’s incoming dance productions but, he does wish there were more.

Only four dance programs again for the Adelaide Festival?

“There were two others,” says co-director Neil Armfield, “but they got away from us.”

The four left are all winners, however. This year’s OzAsia had two works by Akram Khan, but Adelaide Festival 2018 will have the charismatic dancer himself, making his last Australian appearance in his solo Xenos, a full-length work co-commissioned by the Adelaide Festival. The Greek ‘xenos’ usually means stranger or foreigner, but can range widely in meaning, from enemy to guest or friend, depending on context. Kahn interprets the story of a shell-shocked Indian soldier in a World War I trench through the Greek myth of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods to benefit humanity only to be punished by being chained to a rock and having an eagle tear out his liver, which would regrow each night.

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Akram Khan will himself perform in Xenos

The 2008 Festival gave us Kathak-trained Khan with the great classical ballerina Sylvie Guillem in his unforgettable Sacred Monsters, but he first came to Adelaide as a 13-year-old in Peter Brook’s quarry Mahabharata for the 1988 Festival. He continued with Brook until 1990, and said in a Guardian interview, “Spending all that time with Brook influenced me a lot. He showed me how to get rid of the fat, go to the essence of things.” This essentiality gives his choreography a fine cleanness, an immediacy, clearly evident in his OzAsia pieces, Until the Lions and In the Shadow of Man.

In 2014, Khan’s Kathak met Israel Galván’s flamenco when they collaborated on Torobaka — the word means bull cow, the two animals sacred to Spain and India — which at times became more of a duel than a duet. We’ll not see that, but we will catch Galván’s FLA.CO.MEN, which has shocked the purists and delighted everyone else. Now 45, the son of two flamenco dancers, Galvan decided in 1990 to become a dancer himself, and on his way to becoming a leader of the flamenco new wave has picked up a swag of prizes and awards, including a much coveted Bessie in New York.

The critics have scarcely a word against him. The Guardian’s Judith Mackrell, while not completely won over, nevertheless wrote of an “evening that screams avant garde …. He can turn his tense, wiry body into an entire rhythmic playground.” The demanding Alastair MacAuley began his New York Times review by saying Galván “combines complete command of his medium with a phenomenally fertile range of off-beat stylistic ideas”. The Financial Times’ Clement Crisp gave him an exceedingly rare five stars, saying “this great artist deconstructs flamenco, analyses it, denies it all its flummery, and reduces it to a dangerous and intoxicating essence in his body with a prodigious rhythmic sense, imaginative verve and incandescent passion for dance.” I can’t wait.

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Israel Galvan’s FLA.CO.MEN puts a new twist on flamenco (photo: Luis Castilla Fotografia)

Two from abroad. Two from home.

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Bennelong premiered at the Sydney Opera House in June, and has been acclaimed in Canberra, Brisbane and Melbourne. Captured in 1789 on Governor Phillip’s orders, Bennelong was born in the Sydney area in the 1760s, lived in Phillip’s house, learnt English and travelled to England in 1792, returning in 1795. Unable to be accepted by either his own people or the whites, he took to drink. He was twice dangerously wounded in tribal battles in 1798 and died in 1813.

With his dancers, Stephen Page (2004 Adelaide Festival director) has created a mighty piece of dance theatre, with plenty of relevance today. Highly respected Sydney Morning Herald critic Jill Sykes gave it five stars (another such rarity), writing, “Bennelong is an extraordinarily powerful work, a benchmark in Australian dance creativity. It sums up yesterday, today and perhaps tomorrow in a swirling series of storytelling episodes that explore Indigenous lives in an Australia colonised by Europeans.”

At the 2017 Australia Dance Awards, Melbourne’s Lucy Guerin’s The Dark Chorus won the award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography. We were intrigued and delighted by Guerin and Gideon Obarzanek’s Attractor at this year’s WOMADelaide, and the Festival is bringing her Split, which premiered in March.

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Split from Lucy Guerin is the next show in line from one of Australia’s best choreographers

This duet for two women expresses emotions and thoughts about ever-receding time and space and their effect on relationships. Four chapters, each half as long as the preceding one, are matched by spaces marked out on the floor by tape, similarly reducing by half each time, until there is scarcely any room between the performers.

After Attractor, which had a large cast including amateurs from the audience, Guerin has scaled down; she wanted to get back to the studio with a small number of dancers and ended up with two. “These two bodies are forced to negotiate each other,” she told Maxim Boon of The Music, “to either be in harmony or conflict. It really excites me when the process of choreography reveals a structure that tells its own story without it having to be enacted, so this piece has been a really happy discovery.”

Four dance works, all by major award winners. One shouldn’t complain, but it will be a time to cheer when the Festival can field half a dozen or more.

Adelaide Festival
Friday, March 2 to Sunday, March 18
adelaidefestival.com.au

Header image: Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Bennelong (photo: Daniel Boud)

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