“Ballet, that knocked out the audience”
Theater critique and contemporary theater researcher (Georgia)
“You will become an adult and say: I reached my goal! However you won’t feel better, and this feeling will cause the frustration and you will capture that everything is the same, as it was before” – this is the quote from the text which is revealed in new masterpiece – “Play” created by Alexander Ekman, the outstanding modern choreographer. One might have an impression that the monologue is about the chorographer himself, because in his young age he already worked for leading and prestigious ballet and dance theaters of the World, cooperated with the best and well known ballet troupes and companies, as the choreographer acquired nearly all highest awards that exist in the sphere of theater of art and choreography in the World, reached the pique of the popularity, became critiques’ favorite and acquired fans from all over the World – where people have seen or even have not seen his plays (only on TV, or Internet); however only Ekman is not concerned with the issue that he proposes in his new work. Problems, which the choreographer touches upon in his new piece is common for the modern Europe, subsequently the humanity is also facing some sort of dilemma. Play is the first creative project of the outstanding modern choreographer with the individual manuscript in the „Opéra National de Paris”, which he implemented through engaging theater artists and its creative team (Composer Mikael Carlsson and Costumes design Xavier Ronze).
The leadership of the Ballet Troupe of the „Opéra National de Paris”(former Étoile – Aurelie Dupont) invited Alexander Ekman due to his uniqueness. Biography of nearly 24 years old choreographer is outstanding. He is equipped with the immense experience and inexhaustible phantasy. This is the objective reason for inviting him in order to implement new and non-ordinary project.
Theatrical language of Ekman is exceptional with is internal and sharp humor, which unites melo-dramatism, classical and modern ballet, addresses the quotes from the modern choreographers’ works, however still creates original, specific and different version, which excites the audience. Performance with its concept and artistic decisions represents an important statement, which along with the unnoticed universe will help to explore new planet of modern choreography and theater, which assures you in human’s phantasy without borders. Choreographer successfully achieved the goal and audience forgot real life and transferred them into another universe.
Ekman’s play looks like a movie which will attract one so deep that it is impossible to take the eyes off. Each episode is intriguingly built by the choreographer which is wrapped so nicely that it drives you to the aesthetic enjoyment. The performance starts with four musicians form the advance and we read subtitles on Garnier’s impressive curtains, which nominates the names of the creators of this magical universe (multimedia is also used in the second part, when the main actor’s face is illuminated fully on the curtain. In this episode is expressed internal stress of the person which is transmitted through the appearance). Later the musicians appear not in the orchestral pitch but on the balcony which is created especially for them behind the stage and the live music created by Mikael Carlsson is organically synthesized with the electronic music, as well as classical choreography with the modern.
Based on the example of the main character Ekman tells the story of the life of the modern human from birth to death. In the beginning everything is white (main character is dressed in white shorts and orange shirt), atmosphere is relaxed and filled with joy and happiness. About 35 actors on the stage create childish happiness. The main character still does not know how to walk, gets familiar with the universe and absorbs life, is treated in the system (as if he is a puppet) where he is pushed by the (ang. = otoczenie), jedna z awangardowych form wypowiedzi ar.... Despite these restrictions children are free and fly like birds in this healthy, meanwhile in the environment framed by the laws. They play, play a lot and different games. In front of the audience strikes the memories about childish games which was played by everybody. Ekman created nonlinear, diagonal compositions. He created compositions, which reach asynchronous harmony. Staging looks like the birds flock during maneuver, which breaks the composition however keeps the same speed and rhythm. Actors’ movements are similar to the animal flocks movement filmed from the crane which strives somewhere and creates united team from the top view. Consequently, the character in general represents a childish naive society that acts by psychology of mass in reaction to any type of provocation.
In the content of Play, from the beginning is emerging a strict, teacher type expressions, which instead of teaching is remembered with her instructional, prohibitive gestures. People are going through the different stages of lives and the rules of gaming are changing however the essence of life does not change, we still play. Game becomes harder and heavier, circled environment expends and it becomes smaller and more closed… Ekman is an outstanding choreographer and thinks with great sense of humor, who builds his work based on the principles of associations, without any excessive subtext it is simple and understandable for everybody, however very original. Separate episodes are encrypted for coding and solving them delivers us to the uninterruptible chain plot.Ekman uses metaphor language in his dances, which is coming to the life sometimes through costumes and sometimes through lighting.
In the Certain stages of Life games are accompanied by characteristic features. Ekman does not forget the first unconscious sexual aspirations and discoveries, alienation with himself, periods of self-determination, first experiences and dreams towards professions, caused by interests and hobbies. The intellectual choreographer does not keep from the attention process of self-determination, continuous observation process in the mirror at your alter ego. Ekman has not forgotten neither first conflict between girls and boys in teenage years, nor first erection and first kiss. Ekman compares youth period with Deer flock, which strives to fly. The culmination of the performance is the final episode of the first act, complete madness as on the stage, as well as in the audience. On the stage instead of “white flakes” green balls are falling. Stage gets flooded with the small balls and actors are having crazy fun in it. This scene is one of the most impressive and thrilling performance in the play, which will not pass by without any emotions. Here again appears strict teacher’s character which becomes angry at youth fallen into the madness. She is not a negative character, strict is only her appearance and not his inner state. Character looks like nanny from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. It is not by accident that the rain of the balls is green. Dominant color in the first half of the act is white and green. Green here is perceived as the symbol of life. That is why the tee of life on the stage is wrapped with the green leaves.
Everything changes in the performance from the second act. Green is substituted with black and grey. Green leaves will fall from the “Tree of Life” and will be stripped, only dried black dummy remains. Costumes of the actors change into serious, office style and color clothes. At this stage of humans’ life dark colors and heaviness prevails, dramatism is present. Human still plays, however with different mood and emotion. In front of us robots locked in one square meter offices are unfolded, which are swallowed by the routine. They are artificial and mechanical, they are colorless. The second act is dramatized by music of Michael Carlsson, costumes and tree without leaves. Movements are filled with nervous background. Dancers look like frozen sculptures. The game’s white and green balls epoch has passed by (later they are rarely substituted by the black balls and nobody has time to play), environment became monotonous the characters lost childish sincerity and lost their joy. Humans became artificial, even their smile is non-natural, it became more etiquette-protocol, however humans, despite the obstacles are still striving for returning back to childhood and they do have reasons for this, however humans are failing in it. In the finale, the main character appears dressed again in the first episode costume. Character removes the costume, spectacles and leaves for the side scenes behind the curtains. This is where the performance storyline ends. After the actors’ bow unexpectedly the lights go off in the hall and curtain opens. The African American singer appears on the stage and actors appear behind the curtain who stars playing with the audience. Official performance, or the life on earth ends here and the act is transferred to different dimension. This part of the act is not an ordinary bow, it is the part of Alexander Ekman’s concept, which puts everything in the idea of childhood – full paradise.
In the act is present only single verbal monologue which is heard in parallel of action. In the text comes to life Ekman’s “Play” main concept: about shortfalls of education system, essence and purpose of art, modern world…
Ekman’s staging is inspired by various prominent choreographer’s creations. Nothing is surprising or needs condemnation because of this. He uses certain methods and citations, however with new conceptual load, in interpreted and processed manner. Due to its atmospheric feeling, sophistication and lightness Ekman’s ballet is very close to Kylian. It should not be surprising because the choreographer has worked with the Netherland’s Dance Theater for many years as dancer and choreographer.
Ekman’s ballet “Play”, in the beginning of the second act when humans are rolling like the wooden logs, create association with Dimitris Papaioannou’s „TWO“. Also we come across famous composition (chain of dancers) which after Dimitris Papaioannouand Akram Khan will be played at Ekman’s performance differently and absorbs originality like Crinoline dress (which is often met at Jiri Kylian’s ballets and associates with Silviu Purcarete Miranda Shakespeare’s “tempest”). Ekman is especially fond of the spontaneous on the stage. If Pina Bausch’s dancers in the Rite of Spring dance in the sand and Lin Hwai-Min “Songs of the Wanderers” danced in the rice, Ekman made dancers to dance in water (“Swan Lake”) and then on the hay (“Midsummer Night’s Dream”). This time choreographer on the stage of Palais Garnier created the rain of the green plastic balls and made pool filled with balls the dancing/acting area.
Ekman loves cubes and surrounded, pointed-quadratic lighting. He used such technique in “cacti” and nowadays he develops such finding in “Play”. In third act big balls are transferred in the parter and audience gets involved in the game like in “Snow Show” by Slava Polonin. One more quote from Ekman’s “Play”: “Play” represents impressive and unforgettable creation, which makes you think, entertains, provides aesthetic pleasure and makes you forget life which you had before entering the theater. You begin to play and don’t want to finish it. “Whole life is a theater and we all, men and women are the actors of this theater” – Ekman’s performance concept is based upon Shakespeare’s concept. Everybody plays in the universe because it provides enjoyment and everybody has to do it.
© Lasha Chkhartishvili
Theater critique and contemporary theater researcher (Georgia)
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