In Trois Grandes Fugues, Lyon Opera Ballet goes some way towards exploring that conundrum. The programme consists of three choreographers’ response to the same piece: Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fuge, Op 133.
A fugue is a intricate musical composition where one or two themes are repeated by successive instruments. This generates a continuous contrapuntal interaction of the instrumental voices.
So this is what the American Lucinda Childs, Belgian Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker and French Maguy Marin were asked to work with; and the contrast between their interpretations is telling. Although all use the continuous movement the music dictates, the moods they get out of it are radically different.
The programme comes in reverse chronological order. Lucinda Childs' piece, the most recent, is first. The curtain goes up on a blue-lit stage, on one corner of which sits a translucent rectangular box decorated in highly ornate curlicues. It suggests a palatial setting.
‘Courtly’ is probably the word that best describes this work. Created for 12 dancers divided into six couples, barefoot and wearing simple light grey body-hugging costumes, this is a highly formal piece, devoid of any apparent emotion. It cleverly uses the language of classical ballet to create elegant patterns that mimic the intricate structure of the fugue.The six couples dance either in unison or in counterpoint. And although many of the steps are repeated again and again, you suddenly notice a subtle variation of either movement or tempo. It's highly effective and engaging.
DU17 Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues, Lucinda Childs photo Bernard Stofleth
By contrast, Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker’s reading of this Beethoven fugue is an uncharacteristic delirium of humour and joy. Its cast is made primarily of men, the choreographer having stated that she was aiming for ‘a masculine vocabulary, non-classical and sexual.’
The stage is bare, the lighting gantries exposed, a series of lamps slowly lowered as if to add to the expectation of a house that’s by now fallen completely silent. As the music sounds six men and two women dressed uniformly in severe black suits and white shirts bound onto this stage in waves of high energy. Vertical jumps with legs curled under provide a motif; but the highly formalist de Keersmaeker follows to the letter the contrapuntal precision of Beethoven’s music. So what you have is an exhilarating blend of cerebral choreographic rigour and an outpouring of vitality and life.
DU17 Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker photo Bernard Stofleth
Maguy Marin’s piece is strikingly different. Created for four women in costumes of varying shades of bright red, it is an anguished work that draws on what the choreographer perceived as ‘the state of enthusiasm and despair’ of Beethoven’s late work. The dancers' faces are closed, by turns angry and anxious; their arm gestures angular and sharp; their jumps an attempt to escape something inescapable, like death. Here too, the movement is continuous, but seems a little freer from Beethoven’s formal rigour.
Lyon Opera Ballet, back in Britain after a 10 year absence, is a small company committed to a wide-ranging and varied repertoire; and its dancers attack these three very different works with great commitment and professionalism.
By the end of the evening, although you’ve heard Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fuge, Op 133 three times over, what the three different choreographic readings have done is expose and illuminate many different facts of this high complex work.
Trois Grandes Fugues, part of London’s Dance Umbrella Festival, runs at Sadler’s Wells 19 & 20 October 2017 www.danceumbrella.co.uk
|What||DU17 Lyon Opera Ballet Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
19 Oct 17 – 20 Oct 17, 19:30 Dur.: 1 hour and 25 minutes including one interval
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|