above: Cullberg Ballet performs Deborah Hay’s Figure a Sea Photo Credit: © Urban Jörén
Sensational Cullberg Ballet’s Figure A Sea
Cullberg Ballet performs Deborah Hay’s Figure a Sea
Saturday–Sunday, October 22–23, 2016 in Zellerbach Hall.
Photo credit: © Urban Jörén
Review by Jo Tomalin
The Cullberg Ballet presented their Bay Area Premiere of Figure A Sea, produced by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall for two performances on October 22 and 23, 2016.
Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet tours internationally and this season is launching the RADICAL Innovation strand of Cal Performances, comprising new commissions and a major restaging, which includes an upcoming performance created by Robert Wilson & Michael Baryshnikov in November, plus several productions in 2017.
Choreographer Deborah Hay
Photo credit: Leon Alesi
Figure A Sea is choreographed by Deborah Hay, a pioneering experimental postmodern choreographer and is set to compelling electronic music with strings by Laurie Anderson. The music is fascinatingly melodic and reserved, allowing the large company of fifteen Cullberg dancers, five guest dancers, and Hay’s inspired choreography to be at the forefront.
Appearing before the piece starts, dancers move around the stage individually or in small groups, merging and dispersing, at times forming a tableau downstage looking out at the audience. The movement quality is distinctive; it is fluid, precise, and unexpected. The piece continues with music to include rhythmic patterns, flex foot, pointed feet, and balletic positions – always exploring levels and angles.
The choreography is inspiring and visceral as the outstanding dancers may do an arabesque that we are familiar with, which then melts and folds backwards into itself to become a newly created motif. Several times the fusion of a flash of traditional ballet brilliantly transforms through the imagination into unique, rich and unpredictable visual storytelling. Hay has created a wonderful new piece in Figure A Sea, which was initially developed from an image of movement in space traced during dance works and the addition of electronic algorithms. This is a new way of creating dance and movement pieces for Hay, which originated when she was working with the innovative German initiative, Motion Bank.
The ensemble wear an interesting array of modern black, gray and white costumes by Marita Tjärnström in three versions, possibly denoting three different sets of humanity, living, loving, giving and taking in society. The groups are separate at first but mix later on in ever changing formations reflecting relationships.
The startlingly dramatic open set shows the bare sides of the stage with a large bright white and gray backdrop. A bank of three rows of seven lamps above the center stage area (lighting design by Minna Tiikkainen) match the abstract nature of the production and offbeat yet effective organization.
The Cullberg Ballet is fresh and nuanced with fine quality dancing and emoting in this piece. The result is a sensational evolving abstract dance that is slightly improvisatory for each performance, as the music evolves too, therefore, every performance is a little different. Deborah Hay has dared to create in a different way and the result is brilliant!
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