Cullberg Ballet 2 Credit Courtesy

Cullberg Ballet

above: Cullberg Ballet performs Deborah Hay’s Figure a Sea Photo Credit: © Urban Jörén

Sensational Cullberg Ballet’s Figure A Sea

Figure at Sea by Deborah Hay, Cullberg Ballet in Dansare : Unn Faleide, Eleanor Campbell, Samuel Draper

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)

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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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in San Francisco, where she reviews Theatre & Dance for & - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for Actors, Voice for Actors, Storytelling, Business of Acting, Acting and directs MainStage plays. Jo's first play "Jessica" which she also directed was produced at the Fringe of Marin - a One Act New Play Festival. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Completed the two year professional training course at the renowned acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France, where she also completed the Laboratoire du Mouvement (LEM) scenography and movement course. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →