Compagnie Beau Geste
Bathstore, Baker Street
Stephen Petronio Dance Company
Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Royal Opera House
The dancing digger and its partner, the exceptional Philippe Priasso, are back in town. Aptly regarded as a highlight of last year’s Dance Umbrella, Compagnie Beau Geste’s Transports Exceptionnels by the choreographer Dominique Boivin has made a triumphal comeback to the joy of all those who had previously missed it and the happiness of those who wanted to see it again. For this is indeed the kind of performance you want to see more than once, as behind the apparent simplicity of the central idea — a man dancing a duet with a machine — lies an intricate web of narratives that never cease to surprise. A few minutes into it, the quirkiness of the proposed situation fades away, making you believe that the digger has a soul and a heart.
Quirkiness and multiple narratives are also the ingredients of the other, highly engaging free event in this year’s Dance Umbrella programme: Toilet Tango, a duet by Rodrigo Pardo and Cristina Cortés, performed in the window of Bathstore in Baker Street. Within the fictional setting of a small, neatly assembled bathroom, a handsome young man gets ready for what is supposedly a nice night out. While getting ready, he performs all those actions one normally performs when safely enclosed in the intimacy of the most intimate room. He sings, whistles and rehearses the steps he will perform later on in a different environment. As if materialising out of his desires, a sequinned lady appears, and the two launch themselves into a brief, but steamy tango, stepping in and out of the tub, lunging over the sink and the toilet seat, kicking the toilet roll, skipping on the tiles and cavorting on the walls of their confined showcase, with unique ability and technical bravura. After an ingeniously unpredictable finale, the two disappear one after the other, and their theatrical space goes back to its original function. Short, dynamic, fizzy, saucy and thought-provoking: this is theatre at its best.
Indeed, brevity seemed to be a recurring trait of most of the dance performances I saw last week. As one of the Dance Umbrella’s most awaited events, the Stephen Petronio Dance Company presented a triple bill that lasted fewer than 90 minutes. Unfortunately, neither the dancing, nor the programme itself, had the sharp edginess seen in Petronio’s Ride the Beast with the Scottish Ballet the previous week.
The Australian Ballet’s double bill at Sadler’s Wells was also mercifully short. It opened with a revival of Massine’s 1933 Les Présages and concluded with Rites, a new-ish version of the Rite of Spring, in which the classically trained artists of the company joined forces with the indigenous dance-trained members of Bangarra Dance Theatre. Alas, Massine’s revived balletic Expressionism came across as unbearably stale and even somewhat ridiculous, while the intercultural efforts of Rites failed to produce anything truly outstanding.
Luckily, most disappointed ballet fans found solace at the end of the week, in the Royal Ballet’s revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon. Although the corps de ballet is not in good form, the superb dancing and acting of Leanne Benjamin, Johan Kobborg, Lauren Cuthbertson, Viacheslav Samodurov and Christopher Saunders turned the whole performance into something to remember for a long, long time.