Australian Dance Reviews

Dunas

Sydney Opera House, as part of Spring Dance
August 22 2012

By Linda Badger.

This is the kind of show you only get to experience once in a very long while, and it makes so many other things you have seen pale in comparison.

World renowned Belgian choreographer and contemporary dancer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui has teamed up with equally renowned Flamenco dancer María Pagés to create Dunas, making this Cherkaoui’s third work for the Spring Dance festival.

I was first introduced to Pagés work when she was the headline flamenco dancer in the original cast of Riverdance, the Irish/European cultural dance sensation of the 90’s. The passion she conveys in this most recent work, and her belief in what she brings as an artist, imprinted much on the audience.  What a privilege to see her perform live!  Both Pagés and Cherkaoui are so seasoned and so comfortable within their art form. They are one with their art, not self-conscious or necessarily overtly aware of the audience. Their style is unique to those who have gathered, journeyed, lived and practiced their art beyond perfecting steps, many, many times over.  We were absorbed into their world.  Dare I say that THIS is why we dance. They brought meaning to it beyond the steps.  Watching a performance like this, you become immersed in the story, not just the teller and how correct their telling is.  Captivating and thought provoking, the work posed many questions.

The contemporary/flamenco fusion was the perfect collaboration for this project, exploring on the surface the shifting of sand dunes, but under the surface, asking so many questions about life; war, religion, politics -all the big topics.  The work artistically embodied a profound poignancy in their approach to their subject matter.  It was not overly pointed but made the audience come to its own conclusions.  One of the most refreshing things about this work was that even though it was quite ‘scenic’ with definite sections, the transitions were smooth and each part completed the other. Everything was necessary, and, although not all fully revealed in the beginning, it was woven together in such a way that every part made sense or seemed a part of the big picture in the end – the trademark of a truly creative storyteller.

Production wise it was fairly simple. Both performers made several costume changes with Pagés showcasing several beautifully hand dyed dresses by the talented María Calderón. The set, mainly consisting of fabric that acted as a cyclorama and props, was manipulated many times over to accommodate shadow puppetry.

The original score by Szymon Brzoska and Rubén Lebaniegos added that final touch. As with all traditional flamenco dance, the music was entirely live. The musicians were a constant presence on the stage and as equally relevant to the performance as the dancers.  Traditional Spanish musicians Barbara Drazkowska (piano),  Ana Ramón (cante), El Arabi-Serghini (voz arabe), Fyty Carrillo (guitarra), David Moñiz (violín) and Chema Uriarte (percusión) made a very special ensemble. The music was at one with the dance. Spanish music has such a raw and emotively expressive voice that you can almost tell what they are communicating, making the language barrier a non-issue.

It is hard to write about a piece like this, reducing it to just words on a page. To truly gain an understanding of what this piece is, you must see it.  If you are ever in a city where it is showing, make it a priority. It will be worth it.

Photo by Jess Bialek

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