Russell Maliphant Company
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; April 4, 2011
Russell Maliphant’s “AfterLight” began life as a 15-minute solo created in 2010 for the “Inspired by Diaghilev” programme at Sadler’s Wells that commemorated the centenary of the founding of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The piece has since been extended to a near hour-long work, the new sections featuring two additional dancers and new music by Andy Cowton, best known for his documentary and film soundtracks.
The main inspiration for AfterLight (Part 1) came from images of Nijinsky recalled by Maliphant that show a twisted torso spiralling into an outstretched arm, and Nijinsky’s own figurative drawings that convey similar impressions of huge arcs of movement. The original solo that resulted remains an outstanding piece of dance. Daniel Proietto, who won the best male dancer (modern) award in the Critic’s Circle National Dance Awards for his 2010 performance, is again quite breathtaking. There are occasional bursts of energy, but for the most part his soft and languid body gently curls and rotates in a pool of light. Erik Satie’s “Gnossiennes” are the perfect accompaniment for the beautiful yet sad dance.
Maliphant insists that AfterLight is not narrative or biographical, but it is impossible to escape seeing Proietto as Nijinsky as he suffered from the effects of the schizophrenia that afflicted him in later life. He forever appears to be reaching out, perhaps towards something or someone that is not there, or perhaps yearning for freedom and attempting to recapture what he has lost. Michael Hulls’ lighting adds to a sense of claustrophobia, of a man wrapped totally in his own world, unable to escape. Proietto looks distant and remote throughout, the near-monochrome setting adding to a sense of looking back in time. It is truly beautiful and hypnotic. So engrossed was everyone you could have heard a pin drop.
Against such beauty almost any new material is going to pale somewhat. The new choreography is divorced from Proietto’s solo and there is quite a change in mood as it begins. The spell Proietto has cast is broken.
The new sections, a series of duets and trios, are all danced behind a gauze onto which images and animations are projected. Maliphant develops the original circular motifs adding a few rather overt references to images from dance works of the time. There are references back too in Cowton’s score that mixes electronic and traditional instruments and that occasionally quotes from the Satie.
A duet for Silvina Cortés and Olga Cobos takes place beneath amidst a carpet of golden leaves. Dressed in white they immediately bring back memories of a pair of nymphs from Nijinsky’s “L’Après-midi d’un faune”. When Proietto joins them, all animal-like, the suggestion gets even stronger. And when the threesome poses momentarily recalling specific images from the ballet there is no doubt. Later animations suggest almost ghostly pulses of energy.
Cortés and Cobos are pleasing dancers but they never quite match Proietto for sheer beauty and intensity. The new, longer AfterLight does make sense as a whole even if the new sections don’t grab you in quite the same way as the original. Extending the work has undoubtedly compromised it. Maliphant does leave everyone with a stunning final image though as he returns to his original ideas and the very special Proietto for the finale. We see him still twisting, still turning, still reaching out, but now with a much greater urgency; the sense of confinement, if anything, stronger than ever.
This review, with images, will appear later in the magazine.