The shimmering little stud earrings worn as standard by the female body in George Balanchine’s New York ballets are a holdover from this tradition. And it was Balanchine who gave Parisian jeweler Van Cleef & Arpels invaluable publicity when, in 1966, he went to his Fifth Avenue branch to select expensive tapers for his own favorite dancer, on whom he was creating his new ballet. Diamondspart of a triptych that would become collectively known as the Jewelry.
Van Cleef & Arpels has been negotiating this association for the past half-century, but it has taken so far for its patronage of dance to extend to hosting its own London season. Dance Reflections is a fortnight of contemporary European and post-modern American dance presented in three halls: Sadler’s Wells, the Linbury Theater of the Royal Opera House and the Tate Modern. It promises to become an annual event, something to be hailed if subsequent seasons turn out to be half as good as this one. The jewelry house may still be best known for its 1940s ballerina brooches, but its festival lineup is studied and cool.
Opening night featured two shows, both at Sadler’s. The first was a dance between b-boy Rauf “Rubberlegz” Yasit and contemporary dancer Brigel Gjoka “drawing on their Kurdish and Albanian roots as well as their shared experience of working with ballet choreographer William Forsythe.” Phew! That’s a lot of influences. Too bad the show sold out before your correspondent managed to get a ticket. I had better luck with the second show of the evening, a recreation of Dance (1979), an American minimalist classic in which 17 dancers, identically dressed in white on a grid floor, present a visual equivalent of the hypnotically repetitive music of Philip Glass. The Lyon Opera Ballet’s reconstruction of this pinnacle of post-modern chic – overseen by the work’s choreographer, Lucinda Childs, now 81 – was heralded as a must-see for anyone interested to contemporary dance. And it turned out.
To describe what happens in To dance gives little idea of its cumulative effect which, in its incessant repetition over 60 minutes, is both haunting and maddening. The first part sees the dancers – glowing in their white jeans, white T-shirts and white sneakers (illustrated above and above) – walk around the stage in pairs repeating the same stripped down ballet moves for 20 minutes. Moving at high speed in a low, moving bounce that feels sustained like bouncing on a cushion of air, their arms are held either high, low, or mid-height, but always so. The speed at which they move, left to right, right to left, forwards or backwards, remains constant and seems effortless – but of course it’s anything but: Lyonnais dancers are distinguished by their poise and impeccable endurance. The sequence then switches to a soloist repeating the same combination of movements for 17 minutes, before returning to group activity. A filmed version of the steps, the avatars of the dancers in ghostly monochrome, is projected behind, above, below or superimposed on the live dancers, allowing the choreography to be seen from different angles. Mixing live and recorded dance is now almost commonplace in contemporary dance, but Sol LeWitt’s 1979 collaboration with Childs might just have gotten the ball rolling.
The processes of Philip Glass’s music are well known, his undulating arpeggios seeming to be on an endless loop, defying boredom. You have to be attentive to spot the changes that creep in at probably regular intervals (every eight bars?), often minor changes in themselves but resulting in increments of significant changes in texture or harmony. The genius of Childs’ choreography is how it finds an exact visual equivalent, even if the pitch changes don’t necessarily coincide with those of the music. What is remarkable in both is the absolute clarity and the absolute absence of emotion. At some point in the accumulation of synthesized sound, a synthesized voice speaks words that could be “Fix it!” Fix it! Fix it!” and later a single repeated “Happy!”. It is, despite its Chinese water torture potential, work that leaves you happy. but happy and liberated all the same.