Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Auckland Arts Festival
ASB Waterfront Theatre
Reviewed by John Daly-Peoples
Strasbourg 1518 opens sedately enough. A crowd of people I advance hall moving slowly to gentle music through there are hints of Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden. This serenity is soon interrupted by a couple – Death (Michael Parmenter) and The Maiden (Lucy Marinkovich) dancing a more elabiorate ballroom dance duo. They whirl about the stage energetically, a mix of Dancing with the Stars and musical, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire meets Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.
Their display is then interrupted by an officious narrator (Nick Blake) who rails against dancing and its lack of change over the last few hundred years embarking on a treatise about dance and its origins.
This develops into the tale of the 1518 Strasbourg dance mania. It is based on actual events which occurred in the city when a woman began to dance fervently in a street. This was followed by an outbreak of dancing by a group of mostly young women joined in. This dancing mania went on for some time and the Strasbourg magistrate and bishop, and some number of doctors ultimately intervened, putting the afflicted in a hospital and it is believed that some people died of their affliction.
The display of increasingly demented dancing is a compelling illustration of the emotional aspects of dance, particularly contemporary dance where the individuals can appear to be transported either into some inner place or a new exotic location.
What initially starts as a local disturbance become as an uprising and then a revolution. The dancers begin to protest with revolutionary signs and slogans – “The Artists are the Poor” and “We are falling spectacularly Apart”. This mass hysteria combined with the overthrow of religious and political controls and the descent into anarchy mirrors some of the contemporary paintings of Hieronymus Bosch such as “The Triumph of Death”.
Much of the time there appears to be a strong connection with earlier contemporary works such as the “Rite of Spring” and there is an underlying sense of anxiety and unease associated with Covid 19,
The musical score by Lucien Johnson who plays musical instruments on stage as well as controlling the digital tracks is brilliantly integrated into the narrative proving a dramatic soundscape and emotional charge.
Director and Choreographer Lucy Marinkovich has devised an intelligent and expressive work in which the dancing becomes a metaphor for the state of society. We are made very aware of the nature of dance as an art form where individuals engage in intense relationships both physical and emotional. The dancing was immensely varied with ethnic displays, rock, tribal and Pacific slap dancing.
The six main dancers Hannah Tasker-Poland, Sean MacDonald, Kare Rudd, Xin Ji, Eliza Sanders and Emmanuel Reynaud gave stunning performances their ferocious, seemingly random dancing which was by turns confronting, abrupt, sinuous, sensuous and dangerous.
The final tableau in which the dancers disappear to be replaced by Parmenter and Marinkovich, neatly tied the whole work together and we were left with the silhouette of Parmenter not just as Death but as the supreme creator – the choreographer/ dancer.