The latest On Danfe production is a surreal plunge into the world of modern dance. Against an interactive video backdrop of naked men and women, elephants walking on a tightrope and eighteenth-century ladies bouncing on clouds (to name but a few), dancers from all genres created a new and exciting expression of Jean-Philippe Rameau's music.
In the widest crossover of culture, dance style and period, dancers wielded their own relationship with Rameau allowing baroque dance to influence their own style as break-dancers, ballerinas, and modern and African dancers. Rameau's music was at the centre of the performance presenting baroque dances with contrasting tempi, style and instrumental choices. Sarabande, minuet, courante and air were just some of the musical dances which the dancers relished, accentuating Rameau's rhythmic motifs with their feet and shouting out some of the da capo melodies. The production was spectacular, surreal and highly enjoyable.
Strangely, Rameau's music was not performed live but pre-recorded and blared from loudspeakers carefully situated around the large auditorium. At times, the music was distorted into futuristic computer sounds and mixed concisely to co-ordinate animal noises with the animation on the video special effects.
But the most daring musical feat for the company directors Josť Montalvo and Dominique Herieu was to have a beat-boxer perform directly after Rameau's dance music. Incorporating melodies and motifs from the previous baroque dance, rapper Franck Babene (Blade) skilfully produced a modern slant on Rameau's music. Babene performed a variation on Rameau's music using wild vocal acrobatics to capture the 'beat' (similar sounds to a drum kit) and simultaneously sing derivations of Rameau's melodies. With this singular act, Montalvo and Herieu extended the pleasure of Rameau's music to a whole new audience in a modest and enjoyable way yet preserving the true essence of authentic Rameau.
Exploring different interpretations of Rameau's music through daring dance combinations and new musical expressions was successful. However, there were aspects of the production which seemed to serve no purpose but to indulge in surrealism. A man pulling a string of sixteen helium horses attached to his hat and the appearance of a gigantic trampoline in the latter half of the performance seemed ridiculous (and what this has to do with dance I'm still not sure). These wacky and extreme acts did produce some laughter from the audience but in truth, it merely distracted them away from the exciting and demanding dance taking place.
Amongst these bizarre acts, surreal video conceptions and flurries of fantastical dancing were a serious exploration of the meaning and purpose of dance. In between the dancing, poetry was integrated into the performance as members of the company described how it made them feel, move and be: 'Dance puts me in a good mood' said the clown; 'when I dance I exist. all my emotions start to develop' said the break-dancer; even a non dancer explored how it feels: 'I feel small bubbles getting inside me.'
Such a deep and serious aspiration for Art underpinned this entire production. Montalvo and Herieu articulated through the medium of dance that Art (and dance in particular) is for all of us in any form, whether it is our profession or enjoyed on an amateur basis. Art should have the potential to be seen and heard by all, loved and cherished. Spoken by members of the company whose trade is not necessarily dance, this point is loud clear and concise.
However, it is unfortunate that while this is celebrated in dance, the accompanying music (which is also a focal part of the performance) is sidelined by the company. Neither the musicians nor the works of Rameau's music are detailed in the programme. It seems absurd that in attempting to promote the Arts as one of universality they have missed such an important and integral part of performance: failing to acknowledge those who devote their profession to the creation of high art.
Despite this glaring error, On Danfe is a fantastical and enjoyable production which evokes a serious message for audiences. Last word to the break-dancer (modifying Descartes slightly) who ecstatically shouted out: 'I dance, therefore I am!'
By Mary Robb