Un Pas de Cote‘Un pas de cote’ pledges to break the rules of dance and music, and it certainly delivers on this promise. 

The harmonious collaboration between the lithe dancers from Company Salia ni Seydou with the charismatic musicians of Ars Nova Ensemble is essentially the entire basis of the performance.  This multiform artwork transcends the traditional hierarchies of dance theatre, and creates its own theatrical world.

From the very beginning of the performance, the distinction between the ‘dancers’ and the ‘musicians’ is abolished. The performers all enter the stage as one moving chorus. The entire opening sequence is performed with both musicians and dancers executing the exact same movements. It is not until this first sequence is complete, and six of the chorus members move to the side of the stage, that one even realizes that the musicians were part of the group. The musicians are not even seated in the orchestra pit, but set up on the stage itself.

It is in this vein that the entire performance continues: the musicians are not seen as something that simply performs to support the dancers, but as an entirely different entity that is of equal theatrical value. The two co-existing forms work to expand the range of theatrical choices that the production can make. The most exciting part of the performance is witnessing the various relationships that emerge. 

Not only are there relationships between the audience and the dancers, the audience and the musicians, and the musicians and the dancers, but we enter this multiple, heightened realm where all three elements of theatre meet and play with each other. The three worlds intersect and collide in a beautiful open performance experience. A phenomenal example of this multiple and open world occurs early in the piece, where the musicians begin to challenge each other with new sounds, and creep into the dancers’ stage space, in a physically expressive instrumental battle. Meanwhile, the dancers are also challenging themselves by slapping themselves and moving through the already moving procession of musicians.  The audience has no idea where to look because so much is happening simultaneously, and must make a choice as to where they look and what they interpret from the scene. 

The amount of relationships in the piece is insane – the musician and his instrument, the dancer and his body, the body and the instrument, the dancer and the music – the list is endless.

‘Un pas de cote’ is a fantastic example of what good contemporary performance is and where it still has the potential to go.

I realize that a lot of this review has read much into the performance theory, but I cannot explain my elated reaction to the piece without explaining its ingenuity of form. That is not to say that the skill of the musicians or the dancers should be ignored. Ars Nova Ensemble are more than musicians. They act, they play, they explore, and they break the rules of their instruments. The woodwind player blows air into his instrument and presses the buttons, yet no note emerges from the instrument. Or when it does, it is so foul and corrupted that it is interesting in itself. The flute player leaps out his chair repeatedly during one of the dance sequences. The pianist is picked up and carried off stage by a dancer when his playing gets out of control. And when they all play together, a messy, holistic brawl of sound extends from their instruments. This music is so varied and earthy that is the perfect accompaniment for the dancers.

Company Salia di Seydou are incredible. Not only are they intuitively connected to each other, with some of the most simple yet brilliant chorus work I have ever seen, but they also have a deep connection to the music, and the musicians. Their bodies are their own supple instruments. The way the men’s bodies and necks ripple is exhilarating. The choreography is deceptively simple, yet it is the way that the way dancers repeat and sustain movements that give the dance its complexity.

I was nothing less than thrilled by ‘Un pas de cote’. It is quite simply a must see. But this is the type of performance that you do not only ‘see’. This is the type of performance you experience.

Brisbane Powerhouse presents Company Salia ni Seydou and Ars Nova Ensemble in

Venue: Powerhouse Theatre
Dates/Times: 22 – 24 November, 7:30pm
Tickets: $36/$30 (Gallery) $27
Bookings: 3358 8600 or brisbanepowerhouse.org

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