Artifact/Royal Ballet of Flanders, Sadler's Wells, London
Brutal and brilliant, it's high time a British company got in
on the action
Sunday 22 April 2012
Radical art, especially in live performance, can only be
shocking once. Thereafter, it's a piece of history – interesting,
bracing even, but a thing that no longer holds surprises.
A case in point is the shock factor of William Forsythe's early ballets, made when he was being paid to rattle the tooth fillings of Frankfurt ballet-goers stuck on a diet of Swan Lake. That brutalism has been widely copied and its force inevitably dimmed. The stripped-down stage, revealing all the technical gubbins, the house lights kept up after the show begins, the curtain that comes crashing down at apparently random moments, characters wandering around muttering to themselves: such things were more alarming 30 years ago.
But what emerges from Royal Ballet of Flanders' revival of Artifact, a major full-evening work from 1984, is not its shock value, but its classicism. For this is a ballet about ballet, a spectacular, savage deconstruction of the way traditional four-act ballet works in terms of grandeur, drama and expectation. It's also a work stuffed to the gills with smartly regimented steps.
"Step inside," coos a Vivienne Westwood lookalike in a powdered wig, billed as Character in Historical Costume. In typically cryptic fashion, this is both a formal welcome to Forsythe's late-20th-century world, and a signal of his intention to examine the base stuff of dance. First, though, we're introduced to the stooping, dithering, Character with Megaphone, who creeps about peering at the floor while mumbling about rocks and dust. He's clearly searching for something, which in Forsythe-speak means he's excavating the past. There's also a mysterious lone dancer painted all-over grey, who wafts through the proceedings like smoke.
"Can you see what I'm saying?" "Can you remember what I'm forgetting?" The nonsense dialogue rattles back and forth in the manner of Gertrude Stein – either heavy-handling of the theme of historic practice, or a clever undermining of ballet protocol – you take your pick. Whether irritating or amusing probably depends, as I say, on whether you've been here/done this before.
What's not at issue is Forsythe's magisterial marshalling of his forces, a vast corps of 30 dancer-clones, limbs whirring with factory-chiselled precision. But where in Giselle or La Bayadère are lines of white-tutued girls, here are Red Arrow formations of grass-green men, arms clench-fisted in a semaphored masculine code. Pas de deux become wrestling bouts, the woman periodically flaring into violent starbursts.
The concept is all Forsythe's – even the lighting, which alternately slices the dancers with vertical beams, reduces them to shadows or picks them out in a task-lamp glare. The music is crashing, elephantine live piano juxtaposed with a recording of Bach's Chaconne for solo violin – a piece so ubiquitous in Forsythe ballets that it's almost a shorthand for "music".
Artifact is a work that, as long as companies are prepared to tackle it, is certain one day to be called a classic. The pity is that the visiting Flanders troupe has given it so short a run. The good news is that Tamara Rojo, artistic director in waiting for English National Ballet (hurrah!), was in the Sadler's Wells audience with a curatorial glint in her eye. Now there would be a juicy challenge for ENB.
Mention "dance" and "Cuba" and the word "hot" is bound to follow. Ballet Revolución, above, making its first UK appearance, is a combustive fusion of ballet, contemporary dance, hip hop and rumba from supremely fit Cuban dancers and a live band performing hits from Shakira, Ricky Martin and Beyoncé, among others. At London's Peacock Theatre (Wed to 19 May).
TV reviewBroadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair
Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere
TVThe Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Frank Lampard's face drops when Holly Willoughby introduces him as a 'Man City legend'
- 2 'Do not give them a reason': Baltimore man divides police and rioters in hope of avoiding violence
- 3 X Factor in crisis as numbers of people auditioning plummets
- 4 Baltimore riots: Furious mother marches her son home live on TV
- 5 General Election 2015: Stephen Hawking says he will vote Labour
Fast & Furious 7 overtakes Frozen to become 5th highest grossing movie of all time
Poldark finale review: How a costume drama became a Sunday night swoon-fest
Avengers: Age of Ultron: Nearly 700 German cinemas refuse to show movie
The Visit: Watch terrifying trailer for M Night Shyamalan's latest horror film
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 3 - review: Sansa and manhood-lopping torturer Ramsay Bolton, really?
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Aaron and Melissa Klein: Oregon anti-gay bakers ordered to pay $135,000 after refusing to make cake for same-sex wedding
Andrew Lloyd Webber: Phantom of the Opera writer mocked after issuing a warning about Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon
EU exit would hit UK economy much harder than neighbouring countries, study finds
General election 2015: Labour will toughen hate crimes legislation surrounding Islamophobia