Electrifying Babel highlight of festival
By Sidi Larbi Cheraoui and Damien Jalet
Auckland Arts Festival
Until March 23
This work is one of the highlights of this year's Auckland Arts Festival. A multi-disciplinary theatre/dance work which pushes the boundaries of performance art, with a highly emotional, witty and thought-provoking presentation.
The dancers and musicians embark on a performance which explores language of dance. To do so they revisited the various dimensions and histories of language and gesture, and the notion communication.
This is done through dance, theatre and music, as well as the occasional mini lecture on human communication.
The opening critique suggests gesture precedes language and is a universal language. Whether that’s true or not it is a useful conceit from which to develop a performance about communication.
The work shifts between language and gesture, combining the two in a series of variations on the themes of communication, culture and identity.
It takes its title from the Bible story about the disintegration of the community trying to build a new city at Babel and the intervention of an arrogant and vengeful God who showers them with a variety of languages so they lose their common language and identity.
There was also the acknowledgment that English is now becoming the global language and ultimately a new world – if only all those foreigners would stop using their own languages.
The music is a brilliant mixture of melody and minimalism, combining Eastern and Western musical style and instruments.
Above all was the brilliance of the dancers, who provide innovative and captivating sequences. The energy and intensity displayed with their movement, acrobatic feats and martial arts is electrifying.
The various decorative, convoluted and dramatic movements were not merely exercises in dance but appear to have an integrated meaning and symbolism which relates to the idea of Babel – of disintegration of society and the corresponding integration which comes with common language.
The minimalist set design by Antony Gormley consistaof large metal shapes (Towers of Babel) serves a variety of purposes as enclosures, pathways, prisons and retreats. This allows for the instant creation of environments and situations for the dancers to respond to, and they become part of the dances themselves, similar to the way he used architectural elements in Cheraoui’s Tezuka in last year's New Zealand International Arts Festival.
Many of the sequences resemble the approach Javier de Frutos took with his recent work The Anatomy of a Passing Cloud for the Royal New Zealand Ballet, with highly charged solos and duos.
Like all good texts, however, the work could do with some editing. At time there is a sense that some sequences are merely good ideas which don’t necessarily relay the themes of the work and only serve to lessen the dramatic flow and impact.