Three by Ekman - Royal New Zealand Ballet
17-18 May 2017, St James Theatre, Wellington
Reviewed by Deirdre Tarrant
Three by Ekman is an adventurous programme with a triple bill by a single choreographer. Alexander Ekman has an international reputation and has developed a movement vocabulary that dismisses the aesthetic and technique of classical ballet, pared back to a gestural, percussive confined, rebellion of frenetic extremity movement. There were similarities and clear connections between the three works -the dancers were limited by light beams, boxes, rostra and only momentarily broke from this imposed attention on self. Each work asked us to consider difference and dialogue which was imposed by external voices.
Building movement motifs and responding to conversations with movement is familiar territory and the dancers pour much energy into their 'moments'. They can dance and their control is strong and compelling but the excitement of a technique that fully engages the torso and uses impetus and weight to drive the choreographic intent needs to be developed further. There were some stunning disconnects and an overall anger at the world that permeated the evening.
Opening night threw technical glitches at the company and Ekman himself came onstage to ask for clemency. He was witty, relaxed, charming and generous and in the film of him made on arrival in Wellington he was seen dancing effortlessly along rocky paths in bush with the magic of Wellington on a good day behind him. The company film made around Wellington by the wonderful Jeremy Brick was rather contrived. Dancers out and about is not new, but it was a light break from the intensity onstage. Live theatre and particularly contemporary dance needs to engage the audience, and this was inconsistently successful.
Tuplet started with shadow play and faded away before our eyes. Lights were used to punctuate the space and to initiate the dancers and a controlling voice reminiscent of a fashion shoot constantly shut them down. The dancers were blank puppets with a slightly scary and robotic delivery of the many rhythms the work explored.
Episode31 was encompassed by a lone random figure that walked the perimeter of an ensemble of elegant dancers. Dressed in black and white with a cross-gender look but again very tense restricted polarities they drove themselves relentlessly to the edge of destruction and collapse. Abigail Boyle created her own magnetic focus and the conversation between Alexander Ferreira and Massimo Margaria was compelling.
Cacti, the third work, which was seen here in the NZ Festival last year was the most successful piece of the three for me. The New Zealand String Quartet were a powerful and very present part of this work and made me long for real voices to make the sharing of art forms even more immediate. The relationship breakdown duet was slick and combative and excellently danced by Veronica Maritati and Shih-Huai Liang. Even though many of the constructs used had been seen in the two works before, in Cacti the structure and purpose had a clarity and a universal statement to make.
I loved the element of edginess that a more modern programme provided but am not sure that three such similar works really worked? On the other hand Ekman is making a choreographic statement of our times and the world is unquestionably in turmoil. It was exciting to have our national ballet reflect this reality - will dance ultimately find solutions for us all? The rhythms of time will tell.