Dance in performance does not respond easily or well to intellectualising—except in the hands of a truly exceptional choreographer. Dark Matters, a work by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite shown recently at the Sydney Festival, makes that quite clear.
Dark Matters is in two quite discrete sections. The work opens with a man hunched over a table making something. It turns out to be a marionette, which is then manipulated by a number of people dressed all in black who also double as stage hands moving props and set when required. The marionette eventually turns on his maker, stabs him and proceeds to demolish the set.
The second part is more ‘dancerly’ in a conventional sense, and the six dancers of Kidd Pivot are remarkable movers. They have beautifully fluid bodies and they connect with each other seamlessly. Pite is skilled too at arranging her dancers in the space of the stage to create haunting images of bodies meeting, communicating and parting. An absorbing duet for Pite and partner closes the work.
The connecting thread through the entire work is an extract from Voltaire’s Poem on the Lisbon Disaster, written in 1756, including the lines:
- What is the verdict of the vastest mind?
Silence: the book of fate is closed to us.
Man is a stranger to his own research;
He knows not whence he comes, nor whither goes. (Translation by Joseph McCabe, ca. 1911)
It is not instantly clear, however, exactly what connection the two sections have to each other, nor how they connect to Voltaire. It’s not clear later on, on reflection, either. And herein lies my issue with Dark Matters. It relies on Voltaire to move its intellectual content forward, not on the choreography. It relies in my opinion on Voltaire to connect the two sections as well. Without Voltaire it is hard to see any connection. I yearn for choreographic exposition.
While the dancers of Kidd Pivot can scarcely be faulted in terms of their mastery of movement, I also yearn to see choreography that is more than a series of movements, each one attempting to be more inventive in where parts of the body are put, more flexible and rubbery, more twisted and contorted than the one before. It’s beautiful and engaging, but what does it mean in the context of a work that purports to be ‘about’ something?
Sydney Festival publicity for Dark Matters invoked the name of William Forsythe, quoting words from the British newspaper, The Independent: ‘Think William Forsythe with a woman’s touch, drawn more to beauty than its opposite.’ Forsythe is one of those exceptional choreographers who is able to intellectualise AND do so choreographically. I don’t think Dark Matters measures up. It did, however, send me to Voltaire.
Michelle Potter, 25 January 2010