G | Australian Dance TheatrePhotos – Chris Herzfeld

is nothing short of phenomenal. Australian Dance Theatre’s reworking of Giselle, directed and conceived by Garry Stewart, is beautiful, frightening, manic, wild, driven, disturbed and powerful – probably the most powerful and electrifying production of the Perth Winter Arts Season. Already a ghoulish kind of tale in its original form, this deconstructed version of the ballet delves deep into the darker themes of Giselle (madness, death, obsession) and pulls out a work that defies description. It has to be seen and felt to be understood.

The piece begins with a slow processional of all the dancers dressed in the striking emerald green gear that we’ve seen on the Perth Winter Arts Season promotional material. The floor glows green, and at the rear of the stage hovers a digital marquee that spells out Giselle’s formula in letters, like a DNA sequence: G, L, A, B, M, short for each character’s name, with a brief description of plot points. This is just about all the narrative we get; the rest is a series of impressions, feelings, extrapolated moments, and humorous nods to the original work. If you go looking for a linear storyline, you will be baffled, but if you adjust your perception to allow the movement, light, sound and words to do what they have been meticulously designed to do, you will discover the work’s own unique language.

The pace quickens, and the processional becomes first a cavalcade, then an avalanche of dance. The dancers always enter from stage right and exit stage left, echoing how words scroll across a digital marquee. They move so quickly across the stage in some sequences that my brain began to perceive that they were on a moving walkway, and when they slowed to a walking pace, I had to actually check the floor to make sure it was not moving. There is a breathtaking sequence where the performers are hurtling themselves through the air, dropping to a roll and running off stage in one continuous motion, one after the other, with unbelievably exhilarating speed and strength. I was very nearly left breathless.

These performers are dancers, athletes, contortionists, mimes, actors; they all bring individual strengths and interesting qualities to the stage. Classical dance is not forgotten here, but neither is it safe from Garry Stewart’s post-modern knife. Balletic memes are broken wide apart with great fury and fervor, not necessarily with a mocking tone, but more out of a need to present a more complete picture of the ideas and themes being explored in Giselle. It’s revisionist history, so we see further between the lines, into the dark, frightening spaces between the beauty. The human form is distorted into gargoyle-like shapes, twitching, writhing in anguish and ecstasy. But there is beauty too. Twisted beauty.

The lighting by Geoff Cobham is constantly changing; glowing greens, stark whites, deep reds, all in different combinations, sometimes giving the performers a vampire-like appearance, then suddenly breathing life back into them with warm tones. It’s amazing to see the range of shades and colors that can be pulled out of the emerald green costumes, just through a light change.

Perhaps music is the most essential secondary element to a dance work (besides, of course, the dance itself), and composer(s) Luke Smiles/Motion Laboratories have developed a pumping, pulsing, dizzying piece of electronic music that takes you on a journey in itself, entering you and resonating deep in your muscle tissue. It builds to an exhilarating climax as the dancers recap everything we’ve just witnessed, in one final parade, so that when the music suddenly ends, it’s a shock to the system, as if we’ve been disconnected from life support.

Too bad G is only running for four nights in Perth, because not enough people will get to see it. Those who will have the privilege to take part will see something, terrifyingly exciting, visceral and hypnotic that will move them to their feet. 

Australian Dance Theatre
by Garry Stewart

Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre, State Theatre Centre
Dates: 4 – 7 July, 2013
Tickets: $65 – $25
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au

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