There’s an unfinished quality to this mixed bill of work by Noé Soulier and Frauke Requardt & Freddie Opoku-Addaie, an incompleteness.
Soulier presented two works, the first of which, Le Royaume des Ombres, examines 19th century classical ballet through the prism of the well-known Kingdom of the Shades scene in La Bayadère. Endearingly Soulier walks out on stage to explain how the five sections work like a deconstruction of ballet.
Of these five sections, the first and the last stand out. The opening sequence is a glossary of ballet terms, which Soulier performs in A-Z order, leading to bizarre combinations such as a pirouette followed directly by a grand plié. The final section is a condensed ‘greatest hits’ of 19th century ballet, starting with La Sylphide and ending with Swan Lake. The fun comes from picking out all the well-known steps: the heel-clicking of Don Quixote, the soaring leaps in La Bayadère’s Solor variation.
This somewhat tongue-in-cheek take on classical ballet continues in Soulier’s second piece of the evening: D’un pays lointain, meaning ‘from another land’. Here, Soulier highlights the absurdity of 19th century balletic mime with a comical touch by having his dancers performing solely in mime.
What begins as a simple, dictionary-like explanation of different gestures becomes more confusing as Soulier shows us signs with multiple meanings, not all of them logical or related. As more dancers come on stage, the random single words slowly form a narrative, then the words and gestures disperse just as quickly to become meaningless once more. The mime gestures are so old-fashioned and arbitrary they really do belong to another land.
Both of Soulier’s works, while entertaining, don’t yet feel like fully formed pieces – more like great ideas that have been dragged out beyond their natural length. This feeling is compounded by the stripped-back stage, the casual costumes and the lack of music; while in some ways this approach is charming and offers an intimacy that is lacking in most of ballet, it made Soulier’s work feel like a rehearsal. The concept of balletomane comedy is a good one, and one that deserves to be developed further. At times I was reminded of the in-jokes of the Trocks and the cleverness of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
The final work on the bill was The Fidelity Project, a collaboration between Requardt and Opoku-Addaie, who both choreographed and performed the piece. It takes the form of a kind of playful, childlike battle of the sexes, with blind aggression interwoven with occasional moment of tenderness. There is even a bit of slapstick thrown in – nose-picking and tripping over are just some of the tactics employed by the sparring couple. Mostly, it’s out and out fighting. When not throwing straight punches, they move like ying and yang – one’s power counterbalanced by the other’s softer, almost slow-motion energy.
But that’s all there is to it. There’s no sense of back-story, no hint of coherence linking the various movements, no beginning or end. For much of it, The Fidelity Project resembles a comic interlude with a bit of dancing thrown in, rather than a dance piece in and of itself. And what exactly is the purpose of the popcorn machine?
It has to be said that contemporary dance has its fair share of works that are immensely over-complicated and abstract, seemingly for the hell of it. The programme notes to Fidelity Project make matters worse: “A relationship unfolds in the here and now that implicitly agrees with its absurd and at times brutal and vulnerable nature.” This does little to counter the sense of disappointment.