A contemporary dance adaptation of Beauty and the Beast (La Belle et La Bete) has a clear abundance of imagery and source material to draw from.
BalletLab’s Brindabella does a fine job of drawing together design, music, staging and dance into an intriguing whole.
In three acts broadly tracing the concepts at hand (La Belle, l’Amour, Le Bete), the work is choreographed by BalletLab’s Artistic Director Phillip Adams and NYC choreographer Migeul Gutierrez. Despite publicity and imagery emphasizing the homoerotic, I felt that the piece over-stated its shock-value as the most sexually charged performance in Melbourne.
Let me rush to add, that this is not a bad thing – Adams and Gutierrez’s choreography deeply references the erotic, but the intricacy and ornamentalism abstract the sexuality and make it highly performative, rather than gratuitous (as well as fit nicely with the baroque sensibilities). The piece was at it’s best in the group and partner-work sections, feeling at times somewhat disconnected and too abstracted during periods where performers danced mainly in isolation.
The dancers themselves (Brooke Stamp, Tim Harvey, Luke George, and Derrick Amanatidis) were a pleasure to watch (with a distinct feeling that you were supposed to be finding them pleasurable to watch on many levels)
Aside from the oiled up fitness of dancers in various states of dress and undress, the performers negotiated the alternately awkward (dancing with trees strapped to backs) and contemplative (the zen-like jogging laps around stage).
Humour is used to varying levels of efficacy – with somewhat simple ‘bad’ dancing and some amusing sleaze, to incidental moments of comedic tension, to the all-out grab for laughs with the assembly of a distinctly sexual bike.
The design elements were great and were let down by a few one-off issues. Doyle Barrow’s costume design was elegant and appropriate, and highlighted the pieces arc from baroque ostentation to modern simplicity. Lighting was similarly strong, as was the simple use of set – unfortunately the multi-versal curtain proved tempermental and almost de-railed some moments, with a noisy halt of course coming at the opening of the quietest scene.
David Chisholm’s score was fantastic, and was a strong musical support for the action on stage – the blend of acoustic (with double bass, cello and percussion) with the electronic (harmonium and keys), fit tightly with the design and choreographic elements. The overture also provided the striking imagery of the musicians’ shadows projected enlarged onto the curtains – almost a work in and of itself.
Whilst at times a little uneven, I found Brindabella to be engaging and enjoyable. The choreography really shines in the finessing of the groupwork, and the frenticism and meditation of Brindabella is dynamic and appealing.