If the fugue is the highest form of counterpoint it’s because it is truly an art. No one would deny that fugues do not write themselves, yet they are based on simple, sincere imitation, the first, most obvious ingredient one hears, yet the freedom of the voices is the fugue’s sina qua non. Different voices “speak” their individual melodies, and miraculously the result is not only coherent but harmonious too, and, at least under the masters, such harmonies! From one point of view the fugue is the highest composer’s art, even over-specified, yet it is a form-texture deriving from the performer’s highest art, improvisation, the fantasy. The fugue is in a way the quintessence of music, taking something which initially seems rigid and rule-bound, well, at least over-obedient, and sheds those rules completely to become free and creative, the fundamentally horizontal linear elements become nonlinear, sounding just as sensible vertically; sound, a dumb mathematical, physical process obeying laws of time and space, is refined into an art which can speak directly to something deep inside a warm human being. So the fugue, even as theoreticians have for centuries tried to define it and the rules of its creation (without much success), culminating in Jean-Philippe Rameau’s Traité d’harmonie (1722), at the end of which he discusses fugues and how they are written, finally saying they cannot be reduced to general rules, except “le bon goût ou la fantasie.” J. S. Bach in turn put it most aptly of all… in his music.
Bonachela’s new creation begins with calm, silent (without even music) gesturing from the whole company gathered on stage. The gestures seem as organized and complex as a sign language but are not really comprehensible except for a gist, at least not until later, a bit like when a (wild) parrot lands on your balcony railing and starts chattering to you, very slightly reproachful when you don’t give the proper response in the same language. For the first half, the dancers wear plain gray body stockings of varying length with vivid lime green zippers up the back (see photo), almost as if they were wind up toys or soft animals with music boxes. The scene gives way to a more frenetic one with unsettled, fraught music, more electronic sounds, sometimes recalling a jackhammer, or thunder, or like some science fictional machine. Even where the music sounds a bit video gamish and repetitive, the choreography manages to retain its humanity, though the movements can be combative — the high sudden kicks give a little jolt of comic bookishness and though this movement is used too often so its effect is diluted, the dancing manages to veer away from falling into any such mundane tendency. In fact, the piece has much more to it generally than these stylized fights, as alarming and sensational as they are. The movements are rarely naturalistic, only in brief lingering gestures or flashes — a reach towards the other partner, a quarter roll prostrate on the floor, a weightier dropping movement of despair or just release or what have you, or letting the other partner, both man and woman at different times, provide all of the support. The photos here give a very good feel of the work, though it is not so posed as they might lead one to think; theses “poses” are fleeting. Where there is a clichéd gesture — an unsubtle one-shoulder shrug, a splayed crouch, one of those exaggerated martial arts-style high kicks — it is very brief and there is so much going on at once in the multiple groups of dancers so often on the stage, each has their own steps and movements in the detailed and intricate choreography.
The boronia and the pink eriostemon are at the height of their bloom, most of the wattles are just finishing, the parrots, lorikeets and galahs are busy eating and nesting while the magpies are belligerent again and the air has taken on that warm, sweet, dusty polliniferous fragrance of spring. At least it has in this neck of the woods around 33 degrees South, but it isn’t so unlike May in New England. It was when these times came around my piano teacher in school would drop everything to play something with sharps — nothing too hairy, G or D or A major, say. As spring suggests sharps, seeming to say ‘up,’ so does ballet. In the classical technique one seems to dance always thinking ‘up’: relevé, sauté, piqué, even in a simple run across the stage or studio, the feet press up, up, up. Even standing in place, the hips tip up and the body seems to lift buoyantly. Even coming down from a jump, the feet and legs push up as the dancer lands. A dancer maintains a respectful and gentle relationship with the ground, as the surfer to the sea. Naturally, it is spring the Australian Ballet announces its new season and we turn our thoughts to a new year of ballet, but those already looking for wildflowers in the Bush need not turn their heads far.
Contemporary art has been around long enough now to be no longer necessarily contemporary with the present day and likewise Avant-Garde seems sometimes more a style than an attitude or movement. Contemporary dance, as free and expressive as it generally is, sometimes feels held back by its stock of conventional movements and gestures. These movements are becoming less and less abstract even if they can be expressive and exhilarating and every good choreographer has their own touch with them. Of course classical ballet has its own stock of traditional steps, but these are meant to blend together smoothly; in a way the ultimate aim of the choreographer and dancer is to meld these individual steps together into the transitionary movements to become a single fluid movement and an expression of a whole more than the sum of its steps. The audience forgets to see or analyze the steps as separate.