Weight and Weightlessness

Lyon Opera Ballet. At UCSB’s Campbell Hall, Tuesday, October 24.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

Lyon1.jpgThe audience members were not the only ones riveted to the action, the movement, and the stage when the Lyon Opera Ballet performed to a packed Campbell Hall last week. As two dancers gazed into each other’s eyes for longer than two beats, they provided a moment of aching intimacy amid the evening’s first piece, William Forsythe’s “Steptext.” The accompanying soundtrack, Bach’s Violin Sonata in D Minor, paused with the dancers still in motion, continuing in silence until the music began again. Abruptly, midway through the dance, the stage was plunged into darkness. Throughout the piece, visual displays of the tension of action and inaction were explored with repetitive arm gestures and alternating partner and parallel duets.

The program notes did not identify who performed in each role, but rather listed all 31 company members’ names under that of director Yorgos Loukos. The program thus made a statement about their versatility, and as a group they certainly displayed an extraordinary use of their bodies throughout the evening’s challenging choreography.

Even when a dancer was hanging upside down by one arm over another dancer’s shoulder — as was the case in Sasha Waltz’s “Fantasie” — there was no sense of extraordinary effort. Instead, vulnerability was expressed amid the seeming ease and drape of her body. The eight dancers in this piece moved with languid grace, like liquid gold pouring through shapes and quietly defying gravity. Several minutes of the dancers filling the stage, with arms outstretched, as children mimic airplanes, was surprisingly compelling; and just when it became monotonous, the intensity shifted. The simplicity of the final moment with one male dancer in stillness belied the complexity of what came before.

Maguy Marin’s “Grosse Fugue” expressed a different relationship with gravity. Four women in red skirts never stopped moving, their tangible intensity stopping just short of frenzy, with precision imbued in every movement, gesture, clap of their hands, and step of their bare feet. The weight and intensity of the score was mirrored in the dancers’ bodies.

The different vocabulary of the three pieces revealed the expression and temperament of the three choreographers. The selections showcased the company’s versatility and exposed each dancer’s ease and gorgeous perfection. Overall, Loukos and company provided a fitting launch for Arts & Lectures’ international dance season.

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