Lyon Opéra Ballet

Jirí Kylián's "Stamping Ground" & "Un Ballo", Russell Maliphant's "Critical Mass" & Meryl Tankard's "Boléro"

Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob's Pillow, Becket, MA

July 17-21, 2002
By S.E. Arnold

The complexities of human relationships, either to each other or to a spiritual other, thematically link the four works presented by the Lyon Opéra Ballet in the Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow.

Stamping Ground, choreographed by Jirí Kylián and set to a toccata for percussion instruments by Carlos Chavez, features seven dancers costumed in black bathing suits. The audience is clued in by the pre-curtain talk that Kylián's witnessing of an Aboriginal dance inspired this work, the title, the choice of score, the flesh exposing (non) costumes, and the archaic poses. All this harmonizes into a picture of humans gathered in the dead of a traditionally important night to celebrate the recurrence of an ancient event. It is an event, moreover, that opens in silence and flows through a series of solos for male and female dancers. Although the demi-pliés à la seconde pull the celebrants into the floor, the image of burning vitality created by their rippling torso and arms – each dancer displayed an anatomically impossible flexibility – resisted that pull. The entrance of the toccata into the dance, on the other hand, introduces the featured couple, the seventh dancer, and draws individuals into groups of two, three and more. Here, the ceremony, if it is one, begins in earnest, and the chase and combative nature of the duets and trios combine with the centerpiece couple to suggest that Stamping Ground retells a creation story. If this is so, then for the moment of the celebration the people of the Stamping Ground embody their past, present, and future. Moreover, if this fanciful idea should hold, they are the fissionable material that will launch or re-launch the story of their world and its chain of events on its irrevocable path.

Critical Mass, choreographed by Russell Maliphant and set to music by Richard English (with additions from Andy Cowton) mixes rather than separates, ideas held within both the 'nuclear' definition and common usage of the phrase "critical mass". Set on two barefoot male dancers, costumed rather blandly in blue trousers and shirt, the work divides into three sections or relationships and a coda. The relationships suggested by the choice of movement and the use of space fall (roughly) into the categories of the combative, loving, and cooperative. It is this public examination of male-male relationships that, one thinks, fulfils the common use of critical mass. It is as if the weight of this longish piece means to bring the subject (or issue) of male-male relationships to a point that requires action or resolution. Although, the piece is darkly lit, the first section – the combative – offers the clearest picture of the work's structure, repeating chains of phrases slowly varied over time. The structure looks the way the work of Philip Glass, or appropriately to the program, Ravel's Boléro sounds.

The allure of the Menuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin and the Pavane pour une infante défunte by Ravel creates a musical setting for and informs the musicality of Un Ballo, choreographed by Kylián. By contrast, Meryl Tankard's meditation on Boléro fixes a mixed media and relentless nightmare upon Ravel's rich and coloristic orchestration. Both pieces center on the subject of dancing, i.e. a formal ball and a lethal Boléro, and both present a dark picture of male-female relationships. Costumed in black formal attire, the five couples in Un Ballo look basically ballroom-ish, moving, for example, in unison and describing expansive partnering. But,as the ladies fall or collapse the piece turns sinister. In this sense, the ladies costumed in formal attire, the males in black attending to their troubled partners (or perhaps the troublesome males continuing to hector their partners), along with the music of Ravel bring Suspended Women, choreographed by Jacqulyn Buglisi, to mind. Additionally, the unflattering pose that concludes the work, i.e. males on their hands and knees facing the audience, yet obscured by the gowns of the ladies who lie, facing upward, upon the backs of the males, shaping a number four with their legs, undoes the elegance of all the preceded it. Whether ironic, meaningles, or other, Un Ballo, nevertheless, offers a variety of pleasures.

Boléro, in spite of the repeated image of headless dancers, excites one's imagination via the ever-modulating images and patterns cast upon the scrim or screen that separates performers from the audience. Ironically, the power of Boléro rests, for this viewer, in its contrasts of perceptual overloads and deprivation. Although, Boléro exerts a relentless pressure of sound and colorful images, one sees, à la Plato's cave, only shadows, silhouettes cast against the scrim, of the human action. It is a nightmare, yet a thoroughly engaging one.


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Edited by Mary Ellen.

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