I saw this dance and music performance at BAM on 11/4. I realized that afternoon that I had very little idea of what I was going to - - I knew it was dance, and I knew there was a string quartet involved. The name Debussy came to mind, but I wasn't sure why. I know that Debussy wrote a string quartet, but surely they wouldn't be playing that one piece over and over for an hour and a half?
It turns out it was a performance by the dance group Circa, dancing to music by the Debussy String Quartet. Notice the capital letters in that name - - the Debussy String Quartet is a group of four string players based in Lyon, not to be confused with the Debussy string quartet, a composition for four string players written by Claude Debussy in 1893. The real reason I got tickets for the show is because the quartet was playing Shostakovich. Karen Miller, Liz Portland, and I went to a series of performances at Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center a couple years ago, the Jerusalem Quartet playing the Shostakovich string quartets, all 15 of them. They knocked me on my ass, and I was intrigued by the idea of a dance piece built around them. Thankfully they chose only four quartets.
Circa is an Australian troupe based in Brisbane. They combine dance, acrobatics, and circus traditions. Their artistic director is Yaron Lifschitz. One of the things I loved most about the performance is that the movement didn't illustrate the music: for example, it almost never happened in rhythm to the music. But it perfectly captured the wit, the passion, the ache, and the alienation that is Shostakovich.
The piece opened with a woman climbing up and hanging from two long loops. The four members of the quartet stood around her, even the cellist standing up (with an exceptionally long peg on his cello). It was the perfect opener for the program, it really set the tone of lyricism, longing, and danger. There were a couple of confounding moments where it wasn't clear what was suspending her in mid-air, with all four extremities splayed. The whole evening was full of moments of awe, astonishment that human beings are capable of such extraordinary things.
The next section started with a brawny man (#1) picking up a slightly smaller man (#2) in a fireman's carry. #2 climbed around #1 until he was standing on the shoulders of #1. A third, smaller man (#3) climbed up over both of them and stood on the shoulders of #2. #1 walked around in a circle, doing a full 360. #3 reached down, took the hand of #2, and hopped to the floor. The sequence ended with #1 and #2 leaning forward and disengaging in a somersault. We saw this human tower leading to somersault refrain many times over the performance.
The string quartet was incredible, delicious, ferocious playing and a deep sense of ensemble. They played almost entirely from memory (the last 15 minutes were with music), and played the central quartet while BLINDFOLDED. That was a stunt to put them on a par with the acrobatic stunts the dancers were doing.
The central sequence opened with a man running in place, leaning perilously forward, and falling on his face. Getting up, leaning forward, falling on his face. All of this to no music. A large billowing piece of grey fabric rose up behind him and was pulled aside to reveal the other 11 members of the troupe standing on their heads with their legs cocked at funny angles.
More highlights: some throwing people around, a little human jump rope, a lovely sequence with a woman on a rope. There was a three-tiered tower of women similar to the previous tower of men, only this time two other women latched themselves to the shoulders of the women on the second level. They were quickly removed by two men, as if to say, "That's quite enough of that."
Over and over again something unimaginable happened onstage and the audience moaned or gasped or said "Oh!" in a hushed tone. I love hearing audience reactions like this, they're so genuine.
The final section was more buoyant. One memorable sequence had a woman flung about in a circle by a man holding her by an ankle and wrist, like in an ice skating routine. Another man came over and, grabbing her in mid-spin, took her other ankle and wrist and spun her in the OTHER direction. And then a third man and a fourth. And a quirky sequence with four male and female towers, four women standing on the shoulders of four men. They stood in a square, facing the center. Two other women laid on the floor, linked at the torso, legs stretching up. The four second story women each grabbed a foot of the two women on the floor and the four towers leaned back so the two women were pulled off the floor. How does he come up with this stuff.
The performance ended with a woman on her stomach, stretching a leg forward and placing her foot on her face. She looked at it quizzically.