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Royal Ballet of Flanders


by Charlotte Kasner

April 19, 2012 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

Kate Strong as The Character in Historical Costume invites the audience into her world using a wall of words. Having accepted, we find ourselves in a synethesesic universe: hear what we see, see what we think. Then, like a demented Countess from the Queen of Spades, she shatters the wall using a hammer of verbiage.

The Man with a Megaphone wanders through, ineffectually intoning “The dust, the rock, the sand, forget, remember”. Eva Dewaele’s The Other Person, wanders through on long, diagonal walks in a purity of form and function. How lovely too to see and hear two performers with such good intonation and diction. Alongside them, the corps forms a crazy ballet class that implodes and explodes into solos, duets and pas de deux, seamlessly changing from allegro to adage and back again.

Much is said about Forsyth’s deconstruction of theatre and much is extremely pretentious. But “Artifact” really does this. Are we inside the performers’ world or outside? When we are invited in do we forget or remember? A performance is a rock that erodes to sand and then to dust, only to disappear once it is over. The large, empty stage at the Wells is perfect for Forsyth’s utterly brilliant lighting plot, some lights rising up from the pit, others criss-crossing the performing space which is sometimes brilliantly lit, sometimes gloomy.

Forsyth’s costumes are also simple but effective: black, green and yellow, the dancers are set quite a challenge in quick changes. The curtain drops like a giant eyelid, closing off the action, then letting us in again, while it continues regardless. The stage is full of dancers then rapidly clears to reveal one or two performers, then full again.

Movements are strongly horizontal and vertical with rigid bodies, long arabesque arms and occasionally horizontal bodies. The synchronisation and discipline were breathtaking. Forsyth’s dancers have all the precision and attack for which Balanchine’s dancers were (and are) lauded, but with a cerebral nuance that defies imitation. Their fluidity in the adage sections match Bach to perfection, although even Bach is deconstructed.

The late Eve Crossman-Hecht’s score fits the work like a glove, but we are not denied the opportunity to hear Bach in a “pure” form, with a mixed of recording and live piano.

This is a must see with knobs on. It remains to be seen in which direction the Company will go once artistic director Kathryn Bennetts leaves. We can but be thankful to have enjoyed the fruits of her labour within the company during her tenure.

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