Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton as artistic directors of the Sydney Theatre Company saw fit to bring out a new, modern, almost experimental approach to Shaw’s most popular play for its 100th birthday. To speak of the birth of a play, or any piece or performing art, is tricky. Shaw wrote the play in 1912, but the words on in the script are no more the play than those of a poem are the poem or a score the piece of music. Even in Shaw’s case where the sounds of the words are so important and the characters’ accents are all precisely set out — the drama depending almost as much on the raw sounds than their words’ meanings — not to mention Shaw’s preface to the play and his (I think purposefully prosaic) postscript-sequel, there is still room left for at least subtle variations in interpretation. With all these pieces of information specifying Shaw’s intentions and the precise and definite stage directions, the play is already especially alive on the page, but still much of the gestural and body language and movement, which is very important to language, is left open. For all this definiteness, the end is so ambiguous, and as a “romance”, itself a very broad term, it is more akin to, say, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s species of romance. From a character’s point of view it is almost easier to find oneself in a tragedy and leaving one’s problems behind at the end.
The Australian Ballet has of course a long history of commissioning new works, often from Australian choreographers. For the last several years, the Company has encouraged this activity under the ‘Bodytorque’ moniker — five dancers from the company with an interest in choreography are given the opportunity to create a short (15-20 minute) ballet with dancers from the company, which they produce for the general public in a smaller theatre (smaller than the opera house, anyway) — a safe enough environment for experimentation. We balletomanes get the opportunity to see fresh creativity and serious, experimental modern ballet choreography and dancing, as well as what the future holds for the larger national company. This year’s program is certainly varied in inspiration and execution even though, or perhaps because the scale of the productions is small. Some have plots and some have concepts, more like ‘interpretive dance,’ if I can use that term without a negative connotation.
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.