Crystal Pite’s Choreographed Encounters Based on The Tempest

Photo (c) Crystal Pite
Photo (c) Crystal Pite

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Belton, The Tempest Replica: Kidd Pivot/Crystal Pite, Sadler’s Wells, London, 25.4.2014 (J.O’D)

Performers:   Bryan Arias, Eric Beauchesne, Peter Chu, Sandra Marín Garcia, Yannick Matthon, David Raymond, Cindy Salgado, Ralph Escamillan (apprentice)
Choreographer: Crystal Pite,
Composer: Owen Belton
Sound designers: Alessandro Juliani, Meg Roe
Lighting designer: Robert Sondergaard
Set Designer: Jay Gower Taylor
Projection Designer: Jamie Nesbitt
Costume Designer: Nancy Bryant


When Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet returned to Sadler’s Wells with a triple bill last year, it was the work created for them in 2008 by Canadian choreographer, Crystal Pite, that left the most lasting impression. Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue played out its stark, brief choreographed encounters in the arena formed by a semi-circle of free-standing lights pointed towards the audience. Most memorable of all was the man running on the spot to catch up with a woman who held out one arm to him as she stood facing in the opposite direction.

The second half of the eighty-minute long, ambitious but structurally flawed The Tempest Replica (2011), Pite’s first work to be based on an existing script, is a series of similar encounters between the characters of Shakespeare’s play. In the programme, reference is made to Pite’s current interest in ‘dance’s ability to tell stories’. Yet the story of The Tempest (its bare bones) is told in the first half of the piece through projected headings and through animation. Pite herself talks of ‘getting the exposition over with’. So it is hard to see why so much time is spent, and so many complex visual and aural effects used, on this section of the work.

The choreography during this exposition is a visual ‘effect’ in itself. The dancers of Pite’s Kidd Pivot company wear coverings of grey-white mesh over their heads and faces. These, and the matching shade of their clothing, give them the timeless, inscrutable air of the plaster casts at Pompeii and Herculaneum. They move with the studied, jerky but precise motions of computer-animation. (Pite chose the word ‘pivot’ as part of her company’s name for a reason.) They also know exactly how to represent a body being tossed by waves as it is washed up on the shore of Prospero’s island. While it is interesting to see a further example in dance of the human moving towards the machine, Pite and her dancers may be guilty of overindulging, for its own sake, in the brand of choreography they have developed.

In the second half, the dancers return with their heads bare. They are the characters from the play, even as the sounds we hear, and their clothes, place them in a more contemporary world. The lights of Ten Duets are replaced by a buff-coloured screen which flattens the scenic space, pushing the action to the front of the stage. The dancers move, restlessly, from left to right, right to left. They are not allowed the luxury, or repose, of spatial depth. Their encounters are often accompanied by the thud and clash of metal against metal. The duet between Prospero and Ariel is like those between the men and women of the earlier, Cedar Lake work. (Ariel struts haughtily on a pair of heels that are heard but not seen.) Ferdinand is the man running on the spot, Miranda the woman holding out her arm. As in the play, Prospero lets Miranda go. For Pite, this means letting her walk away while film of a toddler’s legs as it takes its first steps are projected on to the screen. Despite the welcome simplicity of this focus on the most basic human movement, The Tempest Replica ends with a return to the bravura of its trademark, CGI-inspired choreography.

John O’Dwyer


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