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Tuesday, 7 September 2010

13th European Dance Festival




A Critical Review by Nathalie Kyrou


I am not a professional dancer, but now I wish I was. This is the kind of effect that the European Dance Festival, held for the last two years at the Rialto Theatre in Limassol, Cyprus, has on its audience. It makes you want to leap and soar, inspiring that part of you where creativity and talent - and the innate need to move - are buried. 

Greece opened the festival with its courageous portrayal of man, a creature who is both dream and nightmare, in a piece called ‘Unknown Negative Activity’. The Rootless Root Company, a choreographic duo made up of a couple, introduced the first and only child to take part in this festival, a young girl who performed alongside them in a chilling and disturbing concept. This was not just dance, but a melange of performance, voice, live instrument, music, poetry, acting, and dramatic use of lighting and props. Starting off too slow for my liking, the piece thankfully built up momentum right up until its climactic ending, when the child shockingly climbs into the swaying womb of a hanging animal hide, after having spent most of the choreography having her body pushed and pulled, thrown and caught and manipulated into a multitude of shapes and poses by the other dancers. A brave act of trust between performers, the effect on me was a feeling of discomfort, disbelief and admiration, especially for the little girl whose unbelievably rubbery body and expressionless face made something extremely difficult seem easy beyond belief. 

Another favourite of mine in the festival this year was Spain. A unique evening of two works was presented by two choreographers with distinct yet contrasting styles. The Thoomas Noone Dance Company began the night with ‘Tort’: pure abstract dance investigating the space onstage and the organisation of its group of dancers. Forming, reforming and deforming the body, the dance was accompanied by a sparse, attenuated, melodic motif. The dancers - some of the best in the festival this year - used the weight of their bodies to flow and fall from one pose into another, gravity helping them to join and separate from each other. The result: a flowing, graceful choreography which avoided the usual clich├ęs. The second piece, ‘Chaos Quartet’, featured four dancers each taking turns to perform, while changing their clothes throughout the piece. A highly respectable and entertaining performance from an already award-winning upcoming company exemplified the great talent and potential the field of contemporary dance has to offer.  

Another country that used the idea of putting on and removing clothes was Austria, who chose to make it more of a central theme. For the first time on stage during a dance event in Cyprus I was faced with completely naked bodies. The production ‘Secret sight: Dossier’ by Dans.Kias started with two women lying on the floor in nothing but their birthday suits. The choreography started and ended at snail’s pace, and unfortunately also dragged throughout, making the most interesting part the actual putting on and taking off of the clothes - which is not to say much. Dancers walking around, folding their clothes and carrying them from one part of the stage to the other, seemed to have no point other than to offer us much needed distraction from the monotonous moves and perplexing nudity. Only a duet towards the end offered us somewhat original choreography, but the movements looked rather clumsy, uncomfortable and unconvincing. When a third male and one of the female dancers removed their clothes completely from the waist below and danced a duet displaying their bare genitals, I was shocked enough to pay attention... if only for a few moments before I glanced back at my watch wondering how many more minutes of this piece I had left to endure. 

Nudity, a recurring theme in this festival, returned once more Italy’s performance. The scene opened with a smoke-filled a stage adorned with white lace curtains. In a hazy blur we are faced with six female figures wearing black dresses and veils covering their faces. As they stomp around the stage in their black heels, repeating prayers in unison and using only the sound and rhythm of their voices and footsteps to move to, I felt myself captured by what felt more like a Sicilian melodramatic movie than a contemporary dance. The drama heightened when the widow-like dancers suddenly dropped their dresses revealing themselves to be men...  completely naked with only the material from their dresses delicately concealing their private parts! Of course, if one had paid attention to the brochure, one would already know that the dancers were men, but the real shock here was not the revelation of their sex, but rather their sexy bodies, as they lined up in a row with their backsides staring at us in nothing but skin, teasing and posing and winking at us, while accompanied by music from ‘The Full Monty’. This comedic twist turned out to be a crowd pleaser, and although the dancers returned onto stage wearing new dresses – which this time they did not remove – the piece did not ever fully return to that initial level of humour which had made it stand out from the crowd at the start. Although the artistic direction was inspired, and the performance beautifully executed throughout the night by the Zappala Dance Company’s talented dancers, I did not however feel the choreography deserved the recurring curtain calls and standing ovation it received at the end. The work seemed too long and repetitive, and even though the amazingly versatile instrument, which provided the only source of sound in the piece (apart from the dancers’ voices), was the feature – and title - of the performance, the marranzano, as it is called, should have been drastically reduced in its use, as by the end of the night I wished I had brought earplugs with me. 

A country which I believe deserved the standing ovation and enthusiasm which Italy received was Finland – one of my favourites of the festival - whose piece ‘And the Line Begins to Blur’ stood out from all the other works with its style, design, and choreography. With talented performers who did much more than just dance, the Susanna Leinonen Company impressed me with its original music and unified whole. The choreography displayed growing tensions between the individual and community, the past and the future, and I was instantly drawn into the surreal world where beauty meets the dark outlook of life. In moments, the style of dancing reminded me of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. The superb lighting design and costumes were worthy of a horror movie film, and they complemented each other and the choreography perfectly. The result: a unified and dramatic work of art which was over much too soon, leaving me wanting more. 

Germany’s and Ghana’s collaboration in DIN A 13 tanzcompany and Dance Factory Accra’s piece, ‘Patterns Beyond Traces’, is worth a mention. Although it is the only piece I didn’t manage to see this festival, its description in the brochure sounded interesting enough with its theme of disability, displacement, tradition and myth, and the efforts of people attempting to flee the stereotypes of race. With an interesting use of props, this work was performed by 5 dancers from Ghana and was one I wish I had seen. Croatia’s ‘Trisolistice’ by Cie Marmot was on the other hand a piece I wish I had missed. From the impression I got from the audience’s swift exit the moment the lights dimmed at the end of the performance, it was not only me who would have preferred that the work had been cut down to simply the presentation of the video part featuring the three individual female dancers, rather than having put us through their extremely dire live solo performances.  

Switzerland’s entry was far more interesting, even though it again seemed a little stretched, with its use of props such as rabbit hand-puppets, miniature soft toy horses, and long poles. ‘Black Swan’ featured four skilled dancers, from the company Ci Gilles Jobin, who demonstrated their mastery of the props in complex moves in this thematic piece of dance which integrated childhood games and disorientation. Cypriot entries by Amfidromo (‘Bla, bla, bla, Black out’), pelma.liaharaki (‘Giraffe’), and Aelion Dance Co. (‘Paul Kee’), took place in Nicosia at this festival proving why, with their respectively atmospheric, comedic, and beautiful aspects, they were the local favourites from their performances earlier in the year at the Contemporary Dance Platform in Limassol. The European Dance Festival ended with Portugal performing in Nicosia, in a piece by Paulo Ribeiro called ‘Maiorca’. Accompanied by a live pianist playing the popular and enchanting Preludes by Chopin, the six dancers balanced and climbed and jumped around their self-constructed playground of wooden boards, making it one of the more interesting pieces in terms of prop-use, although it felt slow and monotonous in parts. A piece that was clever, original, and playful, as well as nicely executed, unfortunately seemed disjointed from its classical score, and would have worked better in half the length. 

The (dance) Oscar of the festival in my opinion should go to France’s work ‘Douar’, performed by nine Algerian / French male dancers – including their choreographer Kader Attou . A collaboration between Attou and the National Choreographic Centre of La Rochelle and Cie Accororap, this work blew me away with its graceful blend of young Algerian hiphop, break-dancing, belly dancing, and exotic dancing (amongst some other styles of dancing that may not yet have definition e.g. puppet-dancing comes to mind). My jaw dropped open in astonishment and awe for most of the night - not just at the performers’ skills but also by the smooth and clever way Attou’s choreography and artistic direction masterfully merged different styles and music together into one entertaining and satisfying whole. By far the funnest of Limassol’s run of performances, this piece succeeded in drawing the audience in with the likeability of its characters and its original use of props. The acrobatics, theatrical aspect and soundtrack made me want to get up and join in all the fun. Squeals of delight and laughter from the audience emerged throughout the piece, as the dancers bodies flowed and contorted into unheard of shapes and forms. The highlight for me was surprisingly not the tricks such as the bouncing around upside down on one arm, or the back flips or the spinning break-dancing, or even the double jointed belly dancer (!), but simply the man who stood alone in the middle of the stage under a spotlight and moved his body in tiny speedy mechanical bursts which gave the effect of a human looking robot under strobe lighting – not unlike some sort of creature designed by special CGI effects! By the end of the night, each and every dancer had been allowed his 15 minutes of fame to show off his individual talents, yet the group showed that they could also perform well together in harmonious unison. They epitomized the essential trust that has to exist between dancers in such routines, persuading me by the end of the night that these men were not just partners in a dance company, but possibly friends, and maybe even family ( the kind of relatives I would want to visit me at celebrations!). The audience seemed to agree, as they raised their hands in the air with tremendous applause at the end of the night, which prompted an encore from the happy and grateful dancers. 

This festival may not be a competitive event – and rightly so, for all art is indeed a matter of taste – but if it were one, although there were definitely some stars, and some disappointments, I would put my hands together again for Finland, Greece and Spain, but France would ultimately win... hands down. Or rather, hands up, in the air!
Copyright 2010 Nathalie Kyrou