Wednesday, 29 January 2014

GUEST POST: Kristian Pellissier tackles Dido and Aeneas at Sydney Festival

Dido and Aeneas. Photo: Jamie Williams. Courtesy of Sydney Festival.
Baroque art is known for its excesses: an explosion of detail and clarity. In Dido and Aeneas, Sasha Waltz & Guests have created a work that could be best described as Baroque in its broadest sense, creating a discordant but vivid visual explosion.
Dido and Aeneas takes as its starting point the late seventeenth century English Baroque opera by Henry Purcell – a dramatic work on love, gods and tragedy that implies emotion on a grand scale. Any further elaboration on the narrative however is almost redundant, as Sasha’s interpretation is a deconstruction of the relationships expressed through voice, movement and imagery. Passages are reinterpreted, expanded upon and explored through a myriad of props and reconfigurations of performers. Singers and dancers shift between more traditional divisions to perform in a way that could be more closely likened to musical theatre.
Dido and Aeneas. Photo: Jamie Williams. Courtesy of Sydney Festival.
The strength of Dido and Aeneas lies in this blurring of performer roles, the smooth choreographic transitions between vignettes and the occasionally striking imagery. Performers float through a tank filled with water, bounce and swoop in a contraption somewhere between a baby mobile and a bungy, and throw props around the stage in gleeful abandon. Individual performers melt into and out of focus in a way that implies but never clearly defines relationships. Single characters appear in multiple manifestations, with at least two dancers and a singer performing the character of Dido. This choreographic choice alone renders the narrative almost impenetrable.
While successful visually and interesting structurally, the work lacks a cohesion that allows for all the disparate parts to amount to something greater. Dido’s Lament, the emotional climax of the work, is an innovative moment but misses the opportunity to connect due to the lack of a clear narrative arc.
Dido and Aeneas. Photo: Jamie Williams. Courtesy of Sydney Festival.
While exposure to this kind of work is invaluable to the development of artistic practice and discussion, the lack of a clear entry point make it both a challenging programming choice and an interesting means of introducing Sasha Waltz to Sydney audiences. Those willing to explore the boundaries of dance or opera will find that this work provides some interesting food for thought. The rest may find themselves asking: ‘Where’s Dido?”.
Kristian currently works as a dancer, dance teacher, adjudicator and Program Officer for the Australia Council for the Arts.

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