The Best is Left to Last as Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fuge Inspires Three Choreographers


 Beethoven, Trois Grandes Fugues: Lyon Opera Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, London, 19.10.2017. (J.O’D)


Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue (c) Bernard Stofleth

Grande Fugue

Dancers – Jacqueline Bâby, Kristina Bentz, Edi Blloshmi, Noëllie Conjeaud, Tyler Galster, Ludovick Le Floc’h, Graziella Lorriaux, Marco Merenda, Chiara Paperini, Leoannis Pupo-Guillen, Raúl Serrano Núñez, Julia Weiss

Choreography – Lucinda Childs
Stage, lighting and costume design – Dominique Drillot
Music –  Beethoven, Die Grosse Fuge Op.133. Recording – Lyon Opera Orchestra – Bernard Kontarsky, Conductor

Die Grosse Fuge

Dancers – Kristina Bentz, Noëllie Conjeaud, Sam Colbey, Tyler Galster, Albert Nikolli, Leoannis Pupo-Guillen, Raúl Serrano Núñez, Paul Vezin

Choreography – Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker
Production – Jean-Luc Ducourt
Stage, and lighting design – Jan Joris Lamers
Costume design –  Rosas
Music – Beethoven, Die Grosse Fuge Op.133. Recording – Debussy Quartet (2006)

Grosse Fugue

Dancers – Jacqueline Bâby, Coralie Levieux, Graziella Lorriaux, Elsa Monguillot de Mirman

Choreography – Maguy Marin
Lighting design – François Renard
Costume design – Chantal Cloupet
Music – Beethoven, Die Grosse Fuge Op.133. Recording – Italiano Quartet, Philips Classics

Presented as part of London’s annual Dance Umbrella festival, Trois Grandes Fugues shows the response of three choreographers to different recordings of one piece of music: Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fuge, Op.133. All three works are danced by Lyon Opera Ballet. The enthusiasm of the audience increased as the evening went on, but the heartfelt cheers for Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue were due in part to the way the two works that came before had prepared the ground.

Grande Fugue, by Lucinda Childs, was commissioned for Lyon Opera Ballet by its Artistic Director Yorgos Loukos after he had paired Marin’s Grosse Fugue (2001) and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Die Grosse Fuge (1992) on one of the company’s programmes. In Childs’s piece the score is transcribed for string orchestra (rather than quartet) and thereby softened. Softness is what characterises the ‘contemporary ballet’ movement of its twelve, grey-clad dancers who are arranged in male-female couples against a grey background: extended arms and legs, articulate footwork, the women’s supported arabesques penchées. The pace is rapid, except for enigmatic pauses involving a filigree structure at the back of the stage that could be conservatory or cage.

The house lights stayed on as the curtain went up for Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s starker Die Grosse Fuge. In black suits and open-necked white shirts, its eight dancers (six men and two, loose-haired women) seem more physically involved in the music. They fall frequently to the black floor, and roll on it. They run in circles. Change in Childs’s Grosse Fugue was wrought by light and shadow. Here it is the appearance of the dancers that alters. As the piece builds they remove their jackets to show shirts that have worked their way out of waistbands or that stick in patches to a dancer’s back.

Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue begins in darkness. Beethoven’s opening chords have been sounded in what seems like a very new way before the lights come up and four women in red run on to the stage. Two are dressed in short dresses, two in tops and short skirts. Two have long, fair hair; two wear their darker hair in a bob. All four have bare feet and legs. If the involvement in the music of de Keersmaeker’s dancers was physical, here it is emotional. The women occupy a space on the stage and proceed to work through the music in apparently agitated mental states, hunching their shoulders, bowing their heads, performing awkward balances that could almost be an ironic echo of the arabesques penchées at the start of the evening. They work on their own most of the time, but are aware of each other. The actions of one will be taken up by the others to become a shared sequence of movement.

There was a point during both the preceding works at which you might have thought: ‘I get the idea. Now what?’ Maguy Marin’s piece always surprised. Not least when one of the women walked purposefully to the front of the stage, sat on the edge of it and let her bare feet dangle in the air below as if in a pool. The others, meanwhile, stood near her in a sympathetic tableau.

John O’Dwyer

Dance Umbrella continues until 28 October. For more information about the festival click here.


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