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George Piper Dances

'Approximate Sonata, I,V', 'Mesmerics', 'Broken Fall'

by Kate Snedeker

June 8, 2004 -- Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Scotland

As the name of the central piece suggests, George Piper Dances is truly mesmerizing. Part ballet, part modern dance and part amusingly, charming home video, Tuesday evening's performance of the George Piper Dances was a complete and satisfying package. The company's founders, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn have managed to bring together three of the top cutting-edge choreographers and a quintet of highly talented dancers. The resulting evening of dance, tied together by a delightfully silly series of home videos, is both fascinating and accessible.

The first piece, William Forsythe's "Approximate Sonata,I,V", smoothly slides between the world of rehearsal and performance. Hubert Essakow's neck and mouth contortions are perfectly synchronized to the groaning and creaking of Thom Willems' and Tricky:Pumpkin's music, but the illusion is blown away when he calls out to the faceless balletmaster to see if he's doing OK. Then and later on, he is promptly corrected by the phantom balletmaster.

Oxana Panchenko eventually joins in what becomes a physical and edgy pas de deux. It is this physicality that defines the piece - with almost no set and simple lighting, it is all about the dancers. Essakow's audible panting is a constant reminder of the exertion behind the dance and brings a raw reality to the stage. Costumes were by Stephen Galloway.

The most fascinating piece of the night, Christopher Wheeldon's "Mesmerics" was full of fluid, curling movements, bodies undulating to Philip Glass's moody music. Arms roll up into curves, twisting to bring bodies around, and later the motif of a single raised arm enters the repertoire. The piece involves all five dancers, sometimes in pairs, and occasionally alone or in a trio. Jules Lumsden' costumes, short unitards with sections of see-through material, highlight the muscularity of the dancers.

Wheeldon is steeped in classical tradition, with shades of both MacMillan and Balanchine in his choreography. However, though this is one of his edgier and more modern pieces, what makes it and the other two dances work so well is the superb underlying ballet technique of the five dancers. All danced with top British companies - the three men at the Royal Ballet, Zamora at Royal Birmingham Ballet and Panchenko at the English National Ballet - and the years of training and performance have allowed them to use their ballet skills as a springboard to try different and more unusual steps and choreography. What could look sloppy and blurred in lesser hands (bodies?), is stunning here because of the details - attention to turnout, pointed or distinctly flexed toes, proper epaulment, stretched limbs and full extension.

"Mesmerics" was introduced in the form of a collage of wonderful video clips by Nunn and Trevitt. The clips begin with a "personalized" introduction shot earlier in the day backstage at the Festival Theatre, and then backtrack to how the quintet making their way across Germany and New York in search of their choreographers. Trevitt narrates the experiences with Forsythe from the comfort of a warm bath and the elicits chuckles from the audience through his attempts to get directions to the Festival Theatre (no easy feat, mind you, with one of the major intersections in town closed!). The second series of video clips set the scene for the final piece, Russell Maliphant's "Broken Fall". The Boyz rumble through Philadelphia, recreating the famous scenes from Rocky, and pop up at various venues throughout the British Isles.

The Broken Fall of Maliphant's "Broken Fall" does not actually appear until the last section of the ballet. The piece proceeds in a deliberate and focused pace, accompanied by the varied sounds of Barry Adamson's score. At times it is almost classical, then it shifts to organ-like synthesizer music, Trevitt and Nunn, in earth colored shirts and knee-length shorts, partner Monica Zamora and each other in muscular, but seamless choreography. A frequent motif appears in the form of dancers rolling across each other's backs, one momentarily lifting the other without the slightest hitch in the fluid movement. Then, finally, the men lift Zamora up into various angular poses, one man balancing her for a split second, before she drops down into the other's arm. Broken falls, but never the hint of hesitation and security. Michael Hulls did the lighting for the last two pieces.

In this excellent performance, Trevitt, Nunn and the rest of the George Piper Dances have brought to an audience the best of innovative ballet. It's a perfect example of where just the right blend of talent, technique, imagination and good sense of humor can take dancers and an audience.

Edited by Jeff.

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