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Arts Festival Review: Aterballetto

Arts Festival Review: Aterballetto

Reviewed by Jack Gray

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Compagnia Aterballetto
15 - 18 March
Westpac St James Theatre

Aterballetto, one of Italy’s foremost dance companies - touring for the first time down under - brings a concert of three repertory works choreographed by the company’s artistic director Mauro Bigonzetti performed by an exuberant and technically explosive cast of twenty young dancers gathered from Italy and all over the world.

The show opened with 'Omaggio A Bach', a group work for the whole company set to short pieces of music composed by Bach. The dancers were first seen in pitch blackness with individual hand-held torches aimed at their naked arms and shoulders. Mysterious port de bras interpreted the tinkling piano in an intimate way, while an elliptical moon was slowly revealed to ominously dwarf the silhouetted figures. The next section had a lone male dancer bathed in amber and blue tones, fittingly reminiscent of Michelangelo's statue of David. We saw his torso, his breath inflating his belly. His gestures were like watching a fawn dance with strong, flexible movements beautifully and cleanly executed.

The dance was then filled by a myriad of images performed by various combinations of bodies. All impressively toned physiques where the women all looked like well-defined Olympic pole-vaulters. The vocabulary featured unison, repetitive motifs, lots of extension and gesture. The performers' emotionless expression gave the impression the dancers were more machine-like than human, interchangeable and all the same. This external presentational mode of performance was at times dominated by Bach’s relentless musical structures but broken up by schizophrenic moments of solo dancing that gave a much-needed touch of spontaneity to the work.

The performance resumed after the interval with the plainly named 'Songs'. A trio performed by two men and one female made a refreshing change from seeing masses of bodies on stage. Beginning with the solitary female figure contorted in a static shape on the floor, the male pas de deux danced around her with flexed feet, balances on one foot with a knee up, showing snippets of choreographic similarities to the first work. However, by the second song we gladly see the dancers begin to synch into the exalting quality of the melodious sacred music.

The combination of technique, skill and presentation was beautiful once the dancers allowed lyricism, flow and riskier timing in their partnering to transcend the choreography. The male duo, however, was again quite pedantic and controlled, and with a lack of emotive expression; it seemed a touch contrived. A predictable ending (repetition of the opening image) was weak and unsatisfying.

The finale, 'Cantata', again featured the full company with the addition of four female traditional folk musicians from Southern Italy. The dancers began in a cluster singing a folk tune in their native tongue. Their hair was down (as opposed to the strictly held back style of the first two pieces) and they each wore individual dresses and clothes in red ochre, earthy tones, red wine and cool blues and neutrals. The resounding heart-beat of the tambourine with the deep throaty wailing of the musicians grounded the spirit of the work, at times overshadowing the mad chicken-like dancing and exaggerated facials of the dancers with the authenticity of their sound. The frenetic nature of the choreography became a bit predictable and repetitive, and when the timing was completely set to the music it showed a choreographic tendency to get lost in amongst the ideas. Again, a flamenco-like solo injected a lyrical sensuality to the dance which begged for some Italian zest seemingly missing from these well drilled dancers.

Just as the work was bare of abandonment and passion, a surprising dialogue in Italian occurred with the words “Fush and Chups” being spoken. From there the last five minutes became an exhilarating ride, a village knees-up, a joyously performed dance with whoops and hollers from the dancers. The most exquisite aspect of the show was seeing the dancers finally surrender to the utter release of their physicality which led to a triumphantly well-received curtain call and enthusiastic standing ovation for this very fit and energetic company.

*************

NZ Arts Festival: Aterbaletto
Press Release: From tarantula bites to Bach – Italian contemporary ballet
Scoop Full Coverage: Festival 2006

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