Logical Conclusion to Cullberg Ballet’s Sisyphean Struggle

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Plateau Effect: Cullberg Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, London, 14.11.2014 (J.O’D)

The Plateau Effect Photo by Urban Jr n

Dancers: Agnieska Dlugoszewska, Alberto Franceschini, Anna Pehrsson, Daniel Sjökvist, Eva Mohn, Eszter Czédulás, Samuel Draper, Sylvie Gehin Karlsson, Vincent Van Der Plas

Choreography Jefta Van Dinther
Sound Design: David Kiers
Set Design: Simka
Lighting Design: Minna Tiikkainen
Costume Assistants: Camilla Carlström and Malin Eriksson

What happens in Plateau Effect (the final production in the Sadler’s Wells Northern Light season) is that nine performers spend fifty minutes or so manoeuvring a piece of canvas that is as large as the stage itself. The brief passages of slow-motion, body-popping or juddering ‘dance’ for which they pause are less interesting to watch than the arduous work they undertake (with cables, weights and pulleys) to raise the canvas like a tent or a sail. For this work must be choreographed, or at least co-ordinated, too. How else would the performers know whether to wrap the canvas round the cable or the cable round the canvas, where to place the weights, and when to use the pulleys? And they work to the background of a pumping electronic score.

The swathe of grey material is the protagonist. It hangs just inside the proscenium arch at the start, completely obscuring our view of the stage. Seven of the performers stand in a line in front of it. After lip-synching a song with words ‘of a sexual nature’ by the choreographer of the piece, Jefta van Dinther, they disappear, one by one, into the billowing folds behind them. The cloth is then lowered on its neon-lit support, and the performers become performer-technicians. Once you have realized and/or accepted that this is what the piece is going to be about, it becomes rather fascinating to watch. At first, the five women and four men work in silence. The clothes some of them wear make spots of colour against the grey of the canvas and of the large board at the back of the stage. The cables and pulleys are introduced gradually. No sooner has a tent-like structure become visible, however, than the canvas is lowered again. This work seems to have no ultimate goal.

The atmosphere changes when one of the women begins to shout what could be instructions. Her fellow performers begin shouting, too. The throbbing of the soundtrack grows louder, or faster; the stage is bathed in flashes of red-light. Now the cloth resembles a sail, two sails. You half expect one of the cast to start in with the words of Shakespeare’s boatswain (‘Down with the topmast! Yare! Lower! Lower!’). This does not happen. Very soon the cloth is lying spread out over the stage, and some of the performers are smoothing out the creases. It is then slowly rolled into the form of a very long, and very large, bolster.

Alistair Spalding (Sadler’s Wells Chief Executive and Artistic Director) writes in the programme of the Cullberg Ballet dancers’ ‘Sisyphean struggle’. But although the piece might not achieve a goal, it does have a logical conclusion. One end of the bolster is attached to a hook on the grey board; the other is raised by pulley into the air (where it hangs like a limp phallus). The much used, much manipulated, much altered canvas is thereby partly returned to the flies from which it first descended.

John O’Dwyer

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