Watching RITUALIA & The Circle, I was acutely aware that I have never before seen a dance theatre show, nor was I entirely aware of what the genre constituted. Choreographed by Colette Sadler and Emmanuel Gat, under artistic director Joan Clevillé, there are notes in the program about the mood and tone of the shows. Having read these, I was aware what I would be watching would be contemporary and visceral; and I prepared to keep an open mind about what was about to be performed.
RITUALIA, the first of the double bill, is based on Bronislava Nijinska’s ballet Les Noces, centring around a wedding ceremony and climaxing in the exchange of wedding vows. The show acknowledges its own engagement with the gender binary and how it tries to do away with it. It must be said that most of the story was left in the descriptive blurb provided. I was unable to track any sort of narrative while watching the immense strength and control of the dancers before me, clad in full body black suits on a white stage.
The music is jarring – operatic voices soar over a harsh, loud piano. This shifts to electronica in the last scene – for me, at least, a welcome change. Halfway through the piece, the dancers take on elaborate cream wigs constructed out of what looks like rope. It does nothing to mar their performances.
The dancers are incredibly talented, however I felt their ability was hidden in the choreographed movements that sometimes seemed contrived. There were moments of both strong ensemble and individual movement, but it was clear that the focus of RITUALIA is the collective. They move together, to music that seems to have little rhyme or reason, in straight lines, making angular shapes out of their bodies. This is certainly contemporary. Keeping in mind that this is more of a self-defined ‘presentational celebration’ than a piece that attempts to tell a story is the key to enjoying the piece, without reading too much into the meaning.
The second half, The Circle, I found far more enjoyable. The white stage was stripped back to its original black, and the company enter in costumes designed to aid their movement. These costumes are revealing, with bundles of cloth bound to their torsos. In the case of the men, some of the cloth falls loose, so when they move and kick, the cloth moves in a beautifully entrancing way.
The Circle, the blurb reads, is about 12 individual dancers, and translating their respective dance languages to the stage. The dance is, this time, accompanied by techno music that seems scattered. Then, a few minutes in, it all makes sense. The music falls in with the dancers. They perform individually – they move in a crowd, all staring at a different dancer. A violent pas de deux happens upstage, under a white wash. A dancer seems to convulse on the floor, but there is little attention paid by the rest of the ensemble. Each dancer gets their moment to ‘shine’, so to speak, the rest of the ensemble watching. There are a lot of moving parts.
Then, spectacularly, the ensemble stops moving. And it starts again. In pairs or threes, the dancers perform the same routine, keeping their eyes on each other. Gradually, they all join in, creating a mass of beautiful movement. They are given far more chances to show their skills and personalities. The players smile at each other, and don’t hide their exhaustion from the audience. There are heaving chests, red faces, and a slick shine of sweat – and it’s glorious. Seeing them all move together feels like a celebration. One by one, they retreat to the wings, watching one solitary dancer move across the stage. Somehow, they managed to appear both individual and together, indistinguishable but unique.
While this show was certainly a new experience for me, it was definitely enjoyable. Once I let go of the story-minded side of my brain and decided to simply enjoy the physical feats in front of me, it was far more entertaining.