First refreshing, then extraordinary

Bradley Winterton

The near-capacity audience, mostly young, was exceptionally responsive. At high points they clapped and cheered, even in the middle of an item.

At the start things appeared rather ordinary – some conventional dances to music by Bach. But then the company’s real panache began to make itself felt. Dancers started to climb down from the Opera House boxes onto the stage, or fall off the front of the stage into the pit below. When a cascade of several hundred of what sounded like glass marbles clattered down the aisle towards the acting area you really knew you were in the presence of something special.

This is to ignore the dancing itself, which was always competent and in the case of some individuals outstanding. Two small children started and ended the show, and according to the program notes there was a story. But few were deceived – this was obviously an amalgam of dances and, more particularly, theatrical effects put together over time. As such it was altogether welcome – stories are frequently an irrelevance to the best dance programs.

The most sensational effect (of several sensational effects) was when the lights went up to reveal the extraordinary spectacle of a performer hanging upside down in a golden light above a sea of stage smoke lying across a billowing drape. I gasped at the daring and effectiveness of this, but more was to come.

Before long we had dancers pinioned (so it seemed) on vertical surfaces onto which they’d leapt, to be gripped like butterflies on glue. There were giant models, powerfully crafted. Bach, Mozart and Beethoven mixed with the cries of birds and the sound of the sea. Later there were more performers suspended high above the stage, yet still managing to “dance” with considerable abandon to the accompanying music.

My only complaint is that the Q & A session with all the cast at the end seemed less than a good idea. Performance is a kind of magic, and it’s better not to let the audience have too much information about the reality that lies behind it.

On the evidence of this premiere, Arabesque is quite simply an extraordinary and very innovative dance company. They have an international touring program in place, and will re-appear at Saigon’s Opera House in November with a revival of The Mist. No-one with an interest in dance or performance generally should miss it.

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