Noé Soulier filled the first half of the evening with two pieces – Le Royaume des Ombres (“The Kingdom of Shades”) and D’un pays lointain (“From Another Land”) – both of which were experimental works, playing with and distorting the conventional construction of the ballet language.
Le Royaume des Ombres – named after a scene from La Bayadère – takes a look at the syntax of ballet, rearranging and recombining the classical vocabulary in incoherent and unconventional ways. The piece is delivered casually and like a lecture, following on from some of Soulier’s earlier work. Soulier calmly walks on stage and explains the structure of the piece and all throughout has no qualms about pausing to catch his breath between each of the five distinct episodes.
The first episode, as Soulier explains, is a demonstration of the ballet vocabulary in alphabetical order, making for some possible but largely incoherent sequences of steps. A bow halfway through a phrase causes a habitual twitch in the audience, who move to applaud before realising their error.
Experiments two and three look at the sentence structure of the dance form, taking away the eye-catching virtuoso moves and leaving only their preparations, creating some jarring combinations and stripping the moves of their meaning and purpose, making them redundant. Soulier’s awkward pauses, half-finished moves and inelegant poses become a part of the choreography and the experiment, but are less a result of the absence of the grander moves than his own contrivances.
The following study re-orders an iconic solo from La Bayadère; its choreographic logic is twisted but it still makes limited sense. By necessity, preparatory steps in whatever form lead naturally and conventionally to larger moves; but the patterns, repetitions and developments of the original choreography are cast aside.
Finally Soulier changes tack, performing extracts from a collection of notable ballets in chronological order. It is unclear what we are expected to notice from this exercise, as any concept of the development over time is lost: firstly in the differing characters of each ballet, and then in the unifying element of the performer, who smooths them into a coherent whole.
The second piece of the evening, D’un pays lointain, is another offering from Soulier along similar lines. This time he uses four dancers borrowed from the Ballet de l’Opéra National du Rhin to inspect the lexicon of 19th-century balletic mime. At first we are taught the language by associating the gestures with verbal phrases, before the combinations of signs and meanings are jumbled, testing our understanding. Often the new combinations contain meanings, but usually the mish-mashing simply highlights the fact that they never had anything of the sort. Divorced from any context, tone or meaningful syntax, the gestures are simply movements.
Soulier’s offerings, particularly the first, are less performance or lecture than raw data, lacking any kind of intelligible response from the choreographer other than through the act of curation. The programme notes state that Soulier attempts “to propose a different reading of the ballet legacy”, but it is unclear what reading he wishes to propose.
The evening concluded with Frauke Requardt and Freddie Opoku-Addaie’s Fidelity Project. The piece, a finalist in The Place’s prodigious 2011 Place Prize, involved live choreography apparently based on memory and previous interactions between the performers. This certainly provided added spontaneity but also a disjointed feeling as the choreography always seemed to occur in short bursts. Its disjointedness, however, was also its strength. The often irrational and inorganic sequences gave Fidelity Project a startling and at times amusing inconsistency. Adding to this inconsistency was the third performer: a popcorn machine, its relevance unknown, that not only added to the accompanying sound but filled the auditorium with mouth-watering aromas. Both performers were absorbing but Requardt overpowered Opoku-Addaie with her dominating onstage persona. Fidelity Project explored the two choreographers’ relationship through a mix of playful violence and awkward tenderness, but always with a great deal of intimacy.
Sadler's Wells: Lilian Baylis StudioRosebery Avenue
London Greater London United Kingdom EC1R 4TN