Friday 12 May 2023

Dance: Defying gravity

Skid / Saaba
by GöteborgsOperans Danskompani
artistic director Katrín Hall
dancers Amanda Åkesson, Benjamin Behrends, Mei Chen, Tsung-Hsien Chen, Miguel Duarte, Zachary Enquist, Sabine Groenendijk, Mai Lisa Guinoo, Hiroki Ichinose, Janine Koertge, Valērija Kuzmiča, Rachel McNamee, Waldean Nelson, Einar Nikkerud, Riley O'Flynn, Duncan C Schultz, Endre Schumicky, Frida Dam Seidel, Lee-Yuan Tu, Christoph von Riedemann, Arika Yamada, Joseba Yerro Izaguirre
Sadler's Wells, London • 11-13.May.23

With a large company of dancers from more than 20 countries, Sweden's GöteborgsOperans Danskompani is known for its risky and ambitious productions. This programme at Sadler's Wells features two pieces that are strikingly different. Both are hugely demanding for large groups of performers: Skid takes the breath away with its daringly vertiginous approach, while Saaba is more tightly controlled and rhythmically seductive.

choreo Damien Jalet
set Jim Hodges, Carlos Marques da Cruz 
music Christian Fennesz, Marihiko Hara
costumes Jean-Paul Lespagnard
lighting Joakim Brink

With the dance floor tilted 34 degrees towards the audience, this piece catches the attention before the first performer appears. Then they emerge legs first over the top, embarking on an astonishingly controlled slide. Some 20 dancers take part over about 45 minutes, both with movements that require serious strength both on their own and in collaboration with others. And it's all rather mind-bending to imaging how they cling to this steep surface while performing elaborately choreographed moves.

Along the way, a story emerges of humanity dawning, learning, working together and finding ways to resist gravity or give in to it, leading to a climactic moment of rebirth that's properly jaw-dropping for its sheer physicality. And because this performance requires controlling something that's essentially uncontrollable, there are moments of improvisation along the way that add a wonderful edge, drawing us in further as these dancers climb and fall with elegant athleticism.

French-Belgian choreographer Damiel Jalet has created a wonderfully evocative piece that feels thrillingly dangerous and achingly beautiful at the same time. And it's cleverly augmented by severe lighting that sometimes shifts to render the performers in long-shadowed silhouette, plus a pulsing electronic score that rattles our bones.

choreo Sharon Eyal
music Ori Lichtik; Daniel Stanfill, Nate Mercereau, Michael Milosh; Abde Wahab; Jean Nkoulou, Homere Zambo; Avaq; Erin Elisabeth Birgy
costumes Mria Grazia Chiuri
lighting Alon Cohen

Israeli choreographer Sharon Eyal keeps her dancers on their toes, literally, throughout this pulsating, tightly controlled number. Clad in skin-matched lace costumes, the performers often look naked on the stage, as they strike poses that shift continuously using small movements. They sometimes move as if they're on conveyer belts across the space, or they collect in groups of men or women performing counter-steps near each other.

The positions are so precise that every variation is immediately apparent, simply because one dancer swings their hips or lifts their wrist slightly bigger than the next one. This offers micro-moments of individuality interspersed with the larger, more deliberate ones. And it adds a slightly ragged detail to the otherwise pristine staging, leaving us to ponder what it might mean.

Because of the contained physicality of this piece, it feels unusually intimate. The choreography involves each dancer's entire body, creating shapes that are always in motion. These tiny movements add a fascinating sexuality to the atmosphere, especially as they're performed in unison by gifted men and women who acknowledge both the joy and pain. Accompanied by a superb song score and dramatic lighting that ultimately resolves into deep red, this is a visceral depiction of these dancers' tenacious skill.

For information, visit: SADLER'S WELLS >
photos by Lennart Sjöberg, Tilo Stengel • 12.May.23

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