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I watched this piece the other night at the Opera Theatre in Lille, which is the funnest sort of theatre – overly decorated, old, shiney, golden, oh so European and very impressively chandeliered with angel statues and all. It manages to be all of these things but at the same time it is intimate and completely friendly. I’m not sure how this happens, but it does.

Gefaltet, which premiered in 2012, is a work that was created in collaboration with the French composer Mark Andre and German choreographer Sasha Waltz. I’ve already written about one of Waltz’s earlier works and it was such a pleasure to see her choreography live on stage. The title, Gefaltet, I think translates into something that would mean to bend, fold, be pleated or creased. The piece serves as a direct interrogation into the relationship between, not so much dance and music but between movement and sound. There were times where this looked very much like dance and music, something very familiar and classical. But this aesthetic often slipped into movement, stillness, sound, silence – something altogether unrecognizable, something that does not belong at all to the classical world of dance and music but nonetheless compliments it well.

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There were eight dancers and four musicians. The dancers did something a little bit incredible that struck me immediately, such a rare sight it is in the contemporary dance world – they smiled. It’s strange. Growing up in ballet classes, we were instructed to smile constantly, especially when doing very difficult horrible things. Perhaps, like me, many contemporary dancers who come out of a classical background are naturally disinclined to grin, with certain memories of these fixed-faced smiles. In any case, smiling becomes infinitely less cool in the contemporary dance world where dancers often assume either a face of distracted boredom or occasionally a sort of self-serious anguish. However often if it’s a very ‘good’ contemporary piece, the face of the performer has an ironic sort of distance to what they are doing with their bodies. It must be said that sometimes there is a soft, quite nice expression that is driven by a dry, self-aware humour but rarely is there the sort of smiling where teeth appear. Or more particularly the sort of smiling that originates from a joy of movement.

But in Gefaltet the dancers had this incredible warmth, a fondness (or dare I say it, a love?) for each other, for the musicians, for movement. This sweet energy on stage immediately made you fond of the whole ensemble. Their smiles were not choreographed or perhaps even noticeable, but every now and then you would see a connection, two dancers catching each other’s eye and mouths would soften and a smile would appear. This made me happy and it reinforced a sense of intimacy, almost a friendly kindness that, like the theatre itself, operated within this very immense and grandly sculptured choreographic spectacle.

Sasha Waltz does seem to create these impressive expanses of choreographic art. When I arrived, I noticed that the piece was just under two hours with no interval! My poor uncultured heart sank, knowing my inability (with about fourteen tabs open as I write) to stay focused and concentrate for an extended period of time. But I did not struggle in this work. Despite the grandeur of the music and the choreography, there were moments of intimate human-ness that kept me (more or less) rapt.

Much of this piece reminded me of classical ballet, both choreographically and stylistically. However it reminded me only of the aspects of ballet that I actually like and it completely evaded the features of ballet that I largely detest. Like ballet it had the most beautifully designed costumes, with several exciting costume changes. Often I forget/don’t care about what dancers wear. Generally I am more interested in what dancers do but in this show I coveted on a very deep and personal level, almost every outfit each dancer wore. Unlike ballet, what the dancers wore made an integral and artistic contribution to the choreography itself; the actual movement seemed to have been created with and for the costumes. They were not excessive or restrictive. They made sounds, they rustled and moved with the dancers, they added shape to movement and completed lines without getting in the way or becoming a prop. They were perfect.

Like ballet, there were moments of narration, small stories and anecdotes that presented themselves. Unlike ballet, this narrative element was not driven by outdated gender/classist roles that involved peasants and princes but rather by human interaction that involved timing, humour and language. Like ballet, there were live musicians. Unlike ballet, they were not hidden under the stage but onstage, fully engaging with the movement, present and performing in the show they were integrally apart of. (Of course, I’m referring to a type of very classical ballet, I understand that ballet is much more than overly thin, super athletic women performing powerless, fluttering nymphs that have to be lifted about by strong young noblemen before they die of grief (or hunger?) and I have nothing personal against ballet (do I?) and mean all of this to be very tongue-in-cheek and playful and don’t want to offend anyone, really.) I think what I’m trying to say, is the references were there but I found the references to be much more fun and intriguing than the original thing they were referencing.

Enough of my nonsense. You can watch a great trailer of the piece here on Vimeo or watch the trailer on YouTube…

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