they’re dead! … everyone’s dead…

Last night was the end of the 第二届广东现代舞周2nd Guangzhou Contemporary Dance Festival, and I know I’ve been pretty harsh on what I’ve seen, so in an abrupt turn-around, I have some complementary things to say about Ballet Preljocaj, and it’s not just because they’re exemplars of eurotrash ballet. It’s not a great work. It’s solid and has some fine moments, but also has a number of weak points.

Without a doubt the duets between Roméo et Juliette are some of the best choreography I’ve seen in a while, worthy of Phillip Adams’ thrash-ballet. Plenty of momentum-driven hurling of bodies, tumbling to the floor, intertwining and getting pulled into knots before slipping apart. It’s the kind of stuff that makes me want to dance and gives me goosebumps. And set to Prokofiev’s pounding score, one of the best pieces ever written for ballet just makes it all the better.

After endless shows here where quantity of light is confused with quality, to see the whole stage lit with three lamps of considered placement is testimony to the skill and style of European lighting design which is simply absent in China. It was something JD lamented about over many beers while here and never managed to impress on the crew that just because you have 100 lights doesn’t mean you have to use them all, and that the stage can still be as dim as purgatory with those hundred lamps unless you understand how the light shapes the space. Three lamps in the grid and every dancer defined in a chiaroscuro worthy of the Dutch masters.

The letdown for me was an over-simplistic rendering in movement of the leitmotifs for each character. I got really sick of seeing the black and white pantaloon chick doing the same foot-slap followed by the Egyptian arm boogie even when their theme had changed by the end quite noticably. And the crappy Ministry of Funny Walks stiff-legged highland dancing of the black-suited thugs got tedious. Over and over…

Thematically the happy-but-poor loveable rogues who know how to kick up a leg and party and make even the stiff-arsed arm-boogie chicks shake a leg smacked of a bad Gilbert and Sullivan musical. Against that, the mono-dimensional “Am I evil? Love my black leather suit?” of the ruling class jocks left me wanting so much more subtlety. But hey, it’s ballet. Subtlety is for the birds.

So I didn’t slide off me seat in ecstacy, but didn’t leave in a black funk either. And the audience dug it too – even some walk-outs. Big spectacle ballet for the cultured classes. Wouldn’t mind seeing what they’d do with King Lear either