Bolero. Meryl Tankard & Régis Lansac

Bolero, by that remarkable duo Meryl Tankard and  Régis Lansac, will have another European outing in April 2012. It will appear on a triple bill program by the Lyon Opera Ballet along with works by William Forsythe and Jiri Kylian. Is there any other Australian choreographer whose work can, over and over again, stand alongside those who are considered by most to be choreographic giants?

Bolero shows off Tankard’s capacity to create a vision of an ever-changing body in movement. It grows from earlier experiments with shadow play, which can be traced at least back to works made in Canberra—works such as Banshee and Nuti.

Bolero was first staged on commission from the Lyon Opera Ballet in 1998 shortly after Tankard had been dismissed as artistic director of Australian Dance Theatre. Its opening scene recalls a Javanese shadow play. Shadows in profile, delicately costumed in bell-shaped skirts with fretted designs are images of real dancers who are hidden behind a screen. As these dancers move across the stage space, they hold their arms in a way that casts two dimensional shapes onto the screen. They move jerkily through images of shadowy columns and disappear behind what appears to be the narrowest of slits between two architectural columns. They then re-emerge from this slim, vertical strip of light, and pursue their crossing of the space.

However, as the work proceeds—and it is performed entirely as a shadow play—the feeling of artificiality disappears. A feeling that this is a real world emerges, even though the audience is still involved in watching bodies behaving in mysterious ways. At one stage a man and a woman engage in a romantic interlude that changes emotional direction and ends with her being pushed to the ground. As she falls to the ground the floor swallows her up. The shadow of her body simply disappears from view. Further into the piece a Spanish dancer is joined by a headless woman and they dance alongside each other.

Set to the driving rhythms of Ravel’s Bolero, the dance gathers momentum along with the music. As both music and dance move to an inevitable climax, shadowy figures change size and shape and position. Some scurry across the space, some move with relentless slowness. There are multiple manifestations of the one figure. Frenzy and control. It is a technical tour de force for Lansac and a work in which the collaboration between Tankard and Lansac reaches a high point. The work was restaged in 2003 in Sweden by the GöteborgsOperans Balett but has never been seen in full in Australia.

© Michelle Potter, 25 April 2011

Featured image: a moment from Bolero. Photo: Régis Lansac

Scene from ‘Bolero’. Photo: Régis Lansac

News from Meryl Tankard

Meryl Tankard reports that her first short documentary film, MAD, has been selected for showing at the 17th World of Women: WOW  Film Festival.

MAD focuses on madness and schizophrenia, explored by poet and writer Sandy Jeffs, who has lived with schizophrenia and all its moods for 34 years.  It features music by Elena Kats-Chernin and vocals by Mara Kiek both of whom have collaborated with Tankard on numerous previous occasions. Lyrics are by Sandy Jeffs. Jeffs was a featured writer at the 2010 Melbourne Writers Festival. She has published five books of poetry.

Sandy Jeffs in Meryl Tankard's short documentary, MAD
Sandy Jeffs in Meryl Tankard's short documentary, MAD

Tankard says she is thrilled that her first documentary has been chosen to be screened at the Festival. She says:

‘I hope this documentary will give viewers a glimpse inside the schizophrenic mind. I have been inspired by Sandy’s works and by Sandy herself, in particular the way she deals with her inner voices and the way she articulates her feelings about her illness’.

MAD will be screened on 9 March 2011 at the Dendy Opera House Quay cinema.

Michelle Potter, 22 February 2011

The Oracle. Meryl Tankard

19 september 2009, The Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, Spring Dance

The Oracle, Meryl Tankard’s work set to Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, is a triumph. A solo work for Paul White, who dances with astonishing physicality and intensity, it is an example of how affecting a work can be when the creative team has a strongly shared vision and works single-mindedly to bring that vision into being. The Oracle was visually and choreographically focused and articulate. It moved from section to section as relentlessly as the music until it reached its dramatic conclusion.

Paul White in 'The Oracle'

Paul White in The Oracle. Photo: Regis Lansac, 2009

Tankard’s choreography, with shared credit to White on the program, moved between small and intricate movements of the hands and fingers and even of the tongue, which required sensitivity of the smallest body part, and movements that demanded that White fling himself through the air, while always maintaining absolute control of the whole body as it hurtled through space. Introverted movements, sometimes executed with the dancer’s back to the audience or with his head shrouded in a chocolate-coloured length of velvety cloth, contrasted with steps of exceptional virtuosity, exuberance and extroversion. Some sections were acrobatic — at one stage White walked on his hands — others had a strong classical feel. This choreography required an extraordinarily versatile performer and White’s performance was quite simply a tour de force.

Tankard assembled The Oracle following the structure of the Stravinsky score but, in her hallmark manner, it was built on multiple layers of meaning and allusion. There were emotive links to Nijinsky, who first gave choreographic expression to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913. They were noticeable in some of the choreographic phrases, which seemed to refer back to Nijinsky’s movement phrases created for his own Rite of Spring. They were also noticeable in those moments when White seemed to be lost in a surreal world, which recalled Nijinsky’s descent into mental illness in the later years of his life. There were allusions to Martha Graham’s well known work, Letter to the World, in which she used her long skirt to give extra shape and form to her choreography. White used that long, chocolate-coloured swathe of velvet not this time to cover his head but as a skirt tied to his waist. He made it swirl through the air as he cart-wheeled and jumped and manipulated it across the floor as he slithered and twisted. The work drew on other sources of inspiration from the work of Norwegian artist Odd Nerdrum to Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. But The Oracle is absolutely Tankard’s own. One of her great strengths as a choreographer is to make references while maintaining an individual integrity.

Regis Lansac, working again with Tankard as he has done over many years on set and video design, created an opening video sequence to a soundscape of whistling and other mechanical sounds and a recording of Magnificat by the Portuguese composer of the baroque period, João Rodrigues Esteves. This sequence picked up on aspects of the choreography and on images of White and manipulated both to explore a different view of the human body. It seemed also to set up a dance of its own that moved from the figurative to the abstract and back again melding and confusing the two ideas. At times throughout the piece Lansac’s projections and video sequences provided an evocative background. At other times they became essential to the unfolding of the dance, especially in those moments when White encountered his image on the backcloth and needed to contend with what he saw.

The Oracle was lit by Damien Cooper and Matt Cox. Highlights included the Rembrandt-esque lighting of White’s face, arms and legs in the opening moments; the expanding and contracting circle of light around whose circumference White made a slow and tentative progression; and the breathtaking closing moment as White, centre stage, jumped high into the air as a shaft of brilliant light closed down upon him.

Paul White in 'The Oracle' (2)Paul White in The Oracle: Photo Regis Lansac, 2009

The Oracle shows the collaborative work of Tankard and Lansac at its best. It is an awesome piece of dance and theatre and was received with well deserved shouts of bravo and a standing ovation at both performances I attended.

Michelle Potter, 21 September 2009

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