Dyad-1929 Photo: Jim McFarlane (courtesy of the Australian Ballet)
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So, I tossed up whether to log onto either the Australian Ballet website or the Sydney Opera House one, to view one of their works as a result of being inundated by an advertisement on Facebook, where there’s a great image of a trio of dancers. The male on the left was captured with his standing foot on a strange angle. By strange, I mean if I were to replicate it, I think I’d snap something.
I hesitated for a full day with the “should I or shouldn’t I?”, thinking the link was going to break the bank. But no, surprisingly, for the paltry sum of $4.49 the show is mine for a week.
Mind you I should’ve gone to Sydney Dance Company for choreographer and teacher Cloé Fournier’s showing in progress with the pre-professional dancers, but alas I fell asleep to the sound of rain on the fibreglass awning outside my bedroom window (where a family of ever replenishing huntsman spiders also reside) and left it too late to get there in time. So, sadly, no live experience to rap about this month.
Instead, I will regale you with the fact that I also keep seeing a duo who have clicked up quite a few views and likes for dancing to the Bee Gees’ famed falsetto track from Saturday Night Fever in ‘Staying Alive’. The blond dude from that video is saturating my feed now, and just a few hours ago I watched him in another duo with a woman doing a snippet of ‘You’re the One That I Want’ from Grease. I’m not on TikTok, nor Snapchat, so don’t really know the time limits imposed, but do know that just when the dance gets going, it abruptly ends.
If memory serves me right, I think the guys must be enamoured of John Travolta by paying homage to Staying Alive, recording it on a boardwalk or footpath of sorts. Although the image of Travolta strutting his stuff down the streets of Brooklyn while swinging a can of paint in his left hand, eating a double decker pizza from his right, putting down a five dollar deposit on a blue shirt, and none too subtle moves on a girl who catches his eye in the street in the movie, is still second to none.
Turns out the TikTok dancers’ names are Vik White and Aubrey Fisher and they are indeed overnight internet sensations. I mean you know you’ve made it when you’ve been invited onto the Ellen DeGeneres Show right! When I tell people I once got down on all fours as a backup dancer for the all time great Australian drag queen Vanessa Wagner, getting an eyeful of her chock full o’nuts, on an episode of Message Sticks for the ABC Network, or that I once danced in a bikini made out of what appeared to be a macrame lampshade in the opening credits of an episode of the once popular sci-fi series Farscape for the Nine Network, it just doesn’t have the same cachet. On that front, I have definitely not ‘made it’.
After a little investigation I discovered the name of the Australian Ballet piece is Dyad 1929. I then proceeded to look up the word “dyad”. It refers to a relationship of pairs, and this immediately made sense, as the choreography was dominated by a series of duets throughout. The reference to 1929 still inspires curiosity, as I’m not sure what this refers to, but I do know now that foam rubber, sunglasses and frozen foods were mass produced that year. Apparently 1929 was also a good year for visual artist, Henri Matisse, who produced around 300 works, or prints, according to the twenty-first century’s fount of knowledge that is Wikipedia. Come to think of it, Moritz Junge’s spare and close-fitting monochromatic costumes in Dyad 1929 were reminiscent of Matisse’s use of block shapes, minus Matisse’s love of colour though.
When I discovered that the music was composer Steve Reich’s Double Sextet, my mind immediately went to Reich’s work Drumming, and choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s work of the same name. I couldn’t help making comparisons between the two pieces, which is maybe not fair to the Australian Ballet, and which maybe reveals more about my dance proclivities than anything else.
The pace of McGregor’s Dyad 1929 is furiously fast. McGregor has a reputation for fitting a lot of movement language into a short amount of time, and in this work this aspect was consistent. McGregor embellishes every balletic line with accent and gesture, taking the audience on a non- stop ride, only pausing on arrival at the final destination, when the curtain has fallen on a piece. This is also true of de Keersmaeker’s choreographic treatment in Drumming.
Dries van Noten’s costumes in Drumming had an element of drape, which meant that the costumes accentuated the movement as did the hair of the dancers, which was tied in a single ponytail, and if long enough, allowed the hair to tassel in response to the movement of the head. The neatly bound hair of the Aussie Ballet dancers in comparison, emphasised the fact of their classical training in that the movement of their heads, and their extremities in general, felt restrained when they ventured outside of the classical vocabulary. The quick shifts in weight and direction of the Australian Ballet dancers also appeared ever so slightly laboured at times in comparison to de Keersmaeker’s cast. Again, it is because the shifts in direction in Drumming were mitigated by Junge’s costumes, providing a kind of follow through for the eyes, like the hands of basketballers which keep moving after the ball has left their grasp. De Keersmaeker’s Drumming had a much bigger cast than McGregor’s, and the coverage of the stage was maximised through a series of spontaneous large running arcs, sometimes backwards, in the path of other temporarily static en place dancers creating an onslaught of nearly missed collisions. This imbued the work with an added element of risk that McGregor’s choreography appeared to lack. For in reality McGregor’s choreography was a risky venture for the dancers, who had to navigate his intricately woven manoeuvres at breakneck speed in ballet slippers and pointe shoes no less. As a Graham trained dancer, I know just how punishing transitioning into and out of the floor can be on the joints, and I have to concede the Australian Ballet dancers’ groundwork was impressive, their transitions looked effortless.
I have seen McGregor’s earlier work titled Entity (2011) live at the State Theatre in which the dancers utilised a hyperlordosic shape in their torsos. I recall feeling disturbed by one dancer in particular, whose back was as unnaturally malleable as a contortionist about to squeeze into a ridiculously confined space. I recall thinking that despite my discomfort, this man McGregor was onto something. In that work, which was the result of extensive research into artificial intelligence, McGregor promised to shake up the ballet genre. In Dyad 1929, although similar claims were made, I did not feel the same impact. Although maybe I am inured to claims to exhibitions of innovation within the classical ballet genre because the shift away from romantic convention was instigated so many years beforehand, since the inception of the Ballets Russes which operated between 1909 and 1929. (Aha, could that be the connection to the title?) Alas, when we look at Picasso’s cubist paintings we no longer marvel at the level of innovation he and his contemporaries achieved in the two dimensional simulation of three dimensional facets in the round, conducted at the turn of the twentieth century.
‘How does a video on Facebook relate to a TikTok video?’, you might well ask. Accessibility. The internet is levelling out the playing field somewhat, and we have Covid to thank for that. Small mercies.
See you next month, when all things March Dance are done and dusted. In the meantime, catch every opportunity on the website and the Facebook link. I am contemplating an online yoga class with Narelle Benjamin via The BOLD Festival listed in the March Dance program. Again – who’s with me?
Vicki Van Hout
FORM Blogger in Residence