Cas Public and Kopergietery in 9 at the Linbury Theatre

Posted: June 10th, 2019 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Cas Public and Kopergietery in 9 at the Linbury Theatre

Cas Public, 9 at the Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, May 30

Cas Public 9
A publicity shot of Cas Public in 9 (photo: ©Damian Siqueiros)

With its recent refurbishment, the Linbury is now a theatre ideally suited for dance. The stage may be only slightly deeper than before but the visibility from the more sharply raked seating is what it should be, unobstructed; even when there’s action on the front of the stage it’s not obscured. This is the kind of theatrical environment needed for Cas Public’s new work, 9, because there is so much detail to take in at any one moment that only a full and uninterrupted view of the stage allows us to benefit from its full effect. 9 is a coproduction between Cas Public — its name derives from the company’s commitment to dealing with social issues and its conviction of the artist’s role in society — and Kopergietery, a performing arts space in Ghent. What links the two companies is their shared focus on creating works for young audiences; Kopergietery’s artistic director, Johan de Smet, is the dramaturg for 9

It’s not immediately obvious this is a performance for young audiences; such works tend to default to a language that underestimates youthful sophistication, but Cas Public’s founder and artistic director, Hélène Blackburn, rejects this approach. As she explains to Gerard Davis in a program interview: ‘I don’t think there’s that much difference between adults and children — the adult is a child who has grown up, while the child is an adult in the making. I don’t see why I can’t address my work to a multigenerational audience — lots of art forms like circus, music and the visual arts do it, so why not dance?’

Blackburn goes a step further in 9 by involving children in the performance. While the audience is entering the auditorium the five dancers (Alexander Ellison, Cai Glover, Robert Guy, Daphnée Laurendeau and Danny Morissette) engage the attention of children and invite them on to the stage (presumably there is a successful negotiation with the parents because everyone seems happy with the arrangement). The stage is covered in dozens of white liliputian chairs with a couple of tables around and through which stage technician Slim Dakhlaou guides a white, radio-controlled VW beetle. The dancers challenge the children in musical chairs and table chess until what looks like a preparatory intervention leads into the show itself when Glover takes off his hearing device — he has a cochlear implant — and puts it on a spotlit chair. The children remain on stage, implicated directly in the performance by the dancers or seated on the side.

Blackburn’s line of research for 9 starts with Glover’s hearing loss and his innate ability to dance — Blackburn thinks he dances better without his hearing aid — and continues through Beethoven’s deafness to an exploration of his Ninth symphony. The meaning of the work derives from a range of visual and auditory caesura that symbolise both the difficulty of hearing loss and the creative achievement in overcoming it. Martin Tétrault’s splicing of Beethoven’s Für Elise and his Ninth symphony brilliantly conveys the idea of music arriving in Beethoven’s head in halting, perfectly formed bars of sound that are sometimes distorted by low frequencies, and yet all the music’s power and joy are maintained. Emilie Boyer-Beaulieu’s quickly changing pools of light emphasize the fitful attempts at expression that Blackburn unites in her quicksilver gestural vocabulary derived from both classical ballet technique and sign language. Michael Slack’s stylishly casual black costumes keep all the attention on the action and, when shirts get loose, on the physical tension of the torso. The performance maintains a subversive sense of humour throughout — dancers on all fours barking at each other (and at the children) or Guy and Laurendeau snatching an embrace in the midst of a demanding unison sequence — that only enhances the tactile intricacy of the work. Kenneth Michiels’ film sequences of a young Belgian boy with hearing loss experimenting with his cochlear implant and his voice are full of humour and empathy in equal measure.

All these elements are seamlessly linked together with such clarity of form that they inspire through their cumulative emotional charge; it’s choreography that imagines what it’s like to hear again and the exhilaration in the audience is palpable.

The company’s secret ingredient is Marq Frerichs, assistant to Blackburn and in charge of the dancers’ training. ‘I’m a Cecchetti guy,’ he says smiling, and it’s evident in the clean, fast footwork, and the impressive ballon that all the dancers manifest. 

Cas Public will be performing 9 this August at Edinburgh International Festival.


Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique

Posted: June 19th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique

Cas Public, Symphonie Dramatique, Salisbury Playhouse, May 30

Cas Public

Cas Public in Symphonie Dramatique (photo: Damien Siqueiros)

Hélène Blackburn, who founded her dance company Cas Public in Montréal in 1989, talks of creating work as a dialogue between her and her dancers, mixing what she has in mind with what they can do; she describes it as an act of writing dance with crossed hands. This notion of choreographic dexterity and of testing the limits of her dancers is fully realised in her 2014 work, Symphonie Dramatique, presented at this year’s Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival as part of its Québec showcase, but it is Blackburn’s stagecraft and her visual sense that dominate it. She has stripped back the narrative from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to concentrate on its emotional core as evinced by just three characters in whom the playwright’s themes of seduction, desire and unbridled passion are so redolent they represent the entire cast: the star-cross’d lovers themselves and Tybalt. It is thus a choreographic reworking of the play as a tempest of emotions that revel blindly in and constantly reject the possibility of tragic consequences. There is no moral tale in Blackburn’s conception, however; she creates no authorial distance between the raging passions and the societal notion of tragedy but rather enters into the passions with the same relentless energy as the characters themselves and leaves the audience to arrive at its own conclusions.

Having a cast of three interpreted by eight dancers allows Blackburn to fragment and recreate aspects of their emotional makeup in the same way the early cubist artists fragmented the picture-space to build up the subject independently in geometric forms. By removing a dramatis personae and plot, Blackburn has re-created a work that corresponds to the subject of Shakespeare’s play in a new, dynamic form with its own independent life. Her fast, intricate choreography worked out on the bodies of the dancers under the intense lighting of Émilie Boyer-Beaulieu builds up energetic physical fragments into a convincing picture of emotional turmoil that ends not with literal stage deaths but with the crashing to the ground of an enormous glass chandelier that for the entire work has hung over the stage like fate itself.

Threading through the work, and indeed another aspect of its cubist structure, is the music by Martin Tétreault, a brilliant sampling of orchestral scores on the theme of Romeo and Juliet by Gounod, Tchaikovsky, Berlioz and, predominantly, Prokofiev. Tétreault’s mastery of the sampling form, like Blackburn’s choreography, removes narrative associations that leave the raw emotional qualities of the music to be re-interpreted by the movements of the dancers. To Prokofiev’s Public Merrymaking music, for example, the dancers begin an agitated unison phrase relating to internal processes of conflict that brings out an emotional instability in the music that is revelatory. Tétreault’s score is thus ideally matched to Blackburn’s choreography and the dramatic unity they create — perhaps closer to the visceral force of music than to the emotional/intellectual force of theatre — is thrilling.

One of Blackburn’s stated aims is to open up her work to a broad spectrum of the public without having to label it for adult or young audiences; she searches for ways to portray such controversial themes as sex and death that a younger audience can readily grasp without playing down to them. After all, as she has said, we can all be Romeo, Juliet or Tybalt and in Symphonie Dramatique’s multiplicity of these characters we can recognize elements of our own emotional landscape without the shading of romance or heroism. In quicksilver duets love is fragmented into sensuality and passion but also into frustration and insecurity; emotions change rapidly as one couple is replaced with another in stark circles of light. Death, in the form of Tybalt’s body being repeatedly and brutally dropped like a heavy sack on the floor, is as raw as a paroxysm of rage. Quick changes of focus, whiplash partnering and fast footwork — on pointe for the girls — give the choreography a visual dynamism that belongs as much to the cinema as to the stage, while the manic energy of the dancers grounds the work in the sweat and toil of the body. It is this physicality of emotions urged on by the muscular score that brings the work alive and gives it an urgent, contemporary relevance.