14 January 2012, Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, Sydney Festival 2012
The one certainty that emerges from Martin del Amo’s latest work, Anatomy of an Afternoon, is that Paul White, the solo performer in the piece, is a very versatile dancer. Some aspects of his dancing remain constant no matter what the choreography―his muscular strength, his control over every small or large movement and the seamless fluidity with which he links steps, for example. They were clearly on show in this Sydney Festival production.
Anatomy of an Afternoon, however, required that White behave like an animal, or various animals to be exact, and to achieve the best outcome he apparently spent some time at the zoo observing animal behaviour. Well a variety of animal characteristics were certainly in evidence. From the point of view of White’s movement capabilities, mesmerising were those sections when his movements resembled those of a monkey. At one stage, with his back to the audience, his body over folded over, his head twisted to look out at the audience and the palms of his hands on the floor he appeared to be jointless as he loped from side to side in this seemingly impossible position on all fours.
But to tell the truth if I want to see a monkey I’d rather go to the zoo. And I certainly could have done without the moment when White exposed his buttocks to the audience, spread the cheeks apart and put one hand into the crevice that was thus revealed, drew the hand out and moved it towards his nose. Again, if I have burning desire to see such actions, the zoo is a better proposition. White is capable of more than this and deserves, in my opinion, superior choreography (even though he is jointly credited with the choreography on this occasion).
Anatomy of an Afternoon is explained in program notes as an investigation of ‘how the practical exploration of an extant choreography would affect [del Amo] as a choreographer creating original work’. Del Amo chose Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1912 creation Afternoon of a Faun as his ‘extant choreography’. However, attempts to draw parallels between the two works are futile I think. In fact all that Anatomy of an Afternoon does, to its own detriment, is show just what a coherent work Afternoon of a Faun was. The outrage of Parisian audiences and critics when Faun made its first appearance in Paris and when, in the closing moments, its interpreter, Nijinsky, sank onto a scarf in a moment of erotic pleasure, was I think more to do with the morals of the time than anything else. But despite the outrage and shock, Nijinsky’s erotic act was actually the culmination of the Faun’s previous flirtatious activities with the seven nymphs who completed the cast of characters in Faun. The Faun had taken the scarf from the nymph to whom he was most attracted. The erotic culmination to the work was not a gratuitous action.
Unlike the audiences of Paris in the 1920s, today’s audiences are pretty much unshockable and a different set of freedoms is in play. But I believe that today’s most watchable dance works have a certain coherence which, in its randomness of action and its various gratuitous events, Anatomy of an Afternoon lacked. I did, however, enjoy the original score by Mark Bradshaw. It had the languid quality of a summer’s day.
Michelle Potter, 15 January 2012