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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gauthier Dance at Saint-Sauveur

The last program of my three-day ballet bash at FASS was Gauthier Dance from Stuttgart. I was particularly looking forward to this as I have known its director, Eric Gauthier, originally from Montreal, since he joined the Stuttgart Ballet in 1996 and have admired his determination and success with his small dance group in Stuttgart. Before the show, Eric gave a very charming introduction where he explained that he wants to make dance accessible to everyone, that you don't have to be a connoisseur of classical ballet to appreciate dancing, and that even the businessman in suit and tie who thinks he doesn't like dance when his wife drags him along to a performance will come away realizing that really he does. In particular, there is a tendency in German contemporary dance to be somewhat angst-ridden and impenetrable, with little sense of the fun that is evident in many Gauthier Dance productions.
Eric explained that the program was called "Lucky Seven" because of the seven very different pieces in the program, which are, as he said, like the seven colours of the rainbow in their variety. In each, the company of 8 (including Gauthier) proved to be both strong dancers and effective communicators.
My favourite was Hans van Manen's The Old Man and Me, depicting a relationship from seduction to separation. Although he originally choreographed the piece for Netherlands Dans Theater III (a company of dancers over 40), van Manen has allowed Gauthier to perform the male role "on condition that I dance it like a young man, not an old man, because I am still young". In the first section, the beautiful Isabelle Pollet-Villard, clad in an elegant purple velvet gown, tries all her teasing seductive wiles on Gauthier, who seems to remain unmoved. Then in the second section, danced to Stravinsky's Circus Polka (which coincidentally I had seen just two weeks before performed by young ballet students in Jerome Robbins' version), the sparks between the two fly. In the last section, set to the elegiac, yearning music of Mozart's 23rd Piano Concerto, the relationship becomes bittersweet. In a sort of stop frame effect, the stage lights go on and off, with the couple finding themselves further apart each time the lights come on again,and finally exiting opposite sides of the stage as the last melancholy and beautiful strains of the music fade away.
In a world premiere by Mauro Bigonzetti, Pietra Viva, the title "living stone" seemed to refer to the fact that dance is like a breathing sculpture. The two dancers achieved remarkable feats of balance while leaning on one another, stepping on one another's feet, and in two striking instances having Anna Suheyla Harms standing on William Moragas's chest while he, supine, rotated around.
Eric also gave us a fascinating insight into the solo he choreographed for himself, Carlito. 10 months ago his son was born, and he recounts how he sat in the delivery room holding his wife's hand during 15 hours of labour. The oval shaped room made him think of a bull ring, and his situation seemed to him to be like that of a matador, fighting to get the baby out. It occurred to him that flamenco would be a good dance style to depict the strains of labour.
The piece starts with him unfolding a towel as the delivery room nurses apparently do in German hospitals, this towel being used to wrap the baby when it is born. At the end, the flamenco song turns into a few bars of Brahms Lullaby, and Gauthier artfully wraps the towel around his forearm and cradles it like a baby.
Shutters Shut by NDT choreographers Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon is a duet set to a recording by Gertrude Stein of one of her poems. Though Lightfoot Leon created the role on a male and female dancer, when Paul Lightfoot saw the two couples that Gauthier had sent to learn the roles, he liked the male dancers so much that he felt it would work best on them. As a result, we see Armando Braswell and Rosario Guerra perform the piece, their rapid movements reflecting Stein's machine-gun recitation.
You can see snippets of all of the above pieces on Gauthier Dance's latest trailer (which also includes Kylian's Sechs Tanze, which wasn't on the Saint-Sauveur program):

The program finished with the humorous Orchestra of Wolves, in which an orchestra conductor comes to a bad end when conducting the first movement of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. The idea for this piece came from a discussion Eric had with the Stuttgart Ballet's music director about what it is like conducting such a powerful piece of music. The conductor said it was terrifying, feeling that the musicians will massacre him if he makes the slightest mistake with the movement of his baton. Gauthier therefore depicts the conductor as a bird facing a pack of wolves ready to devour him. You can see snippets of it in this video:

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