New views of a classic: Swan Lakes by Gauthier Dance

Online via 3sat
August 30, 2021

David Mead

The three 20-minute pieces that make up this broadcast Swan Lakes programme by Stuttgart’s Gauthier Dance are not new versions of the classic ballet. Anything but. Indeed, if you didn’t know the programme was called Swan Lakes, for much of the time you would struggle to make the association. There are certainly no flocks of white swans (actually, not any white at all) and definitely no tutus. The works are rather ‘inspired by’, choreographers Hofesh Shechter, Cayetano Sato and Marco Goecke tending to take one aspect or theme from the original and then developing it in their own unique style.

Whatever one makes of the choreography, the dancers are quite simply outstanding. Eric Gauthier, who introduces each piece in his usual casual, easy-going style, not only one of the top contemporary companies in Europe, but one whose dancers seem able to shift between very different styles at the flick of a switch.

Gauthier Dance in Hofesh Shechter’s Swan Cakes
Photo Jeanette Bak

Hofesh Schechter’s Swan Cake is the choreographer’s first work for Gauthier Dance and marks his start of his time as an artist-in-residence with the Theaterhaus company. It bursts with energy. Not only are all eight dancers on stage the whole time, they barely pause for a moment. They dance very much as an ensemble but mostly as if in a trance; some sort of dark swan rave. They twist, turn, shuffle, haul themselves along the floor in typical Shechter vocabulary.

It’s not a huge leap to see the dancers as a flock of swans although there are times when it feels like it could be almost any Shechter piece of the past ten years. But then he throws in surprise gestures that appear to nods to the ballet: an arm here, what looks like the stroking of a swan’s neck there. While the music has a typically oriental, folkloric tone, it too references the ballet as Tchaikovsky’s theme are clearly heard, albeit mashed up.

Gauthier Dance in Cayetano Sato’s Untitled for 7 Dancers
Photo Jeanette Bak

Swan Cake has colour, in pretty much every sense. In contrast, Cayetano Sato’s Untitled for 7 Dancers is danced in skin-tight, head-to-toe black costumes against a black background. Shechter’s party mood meanwhile is replaced by a slightly eerie feel. Soto’s dancers might not look like swans, but you can easily imagine it’s all happening at some gloomy night-time lakeside, a feeling helped enormously by the atmospheric, specially commissioned electro-score by young composer and cellist Peter Gregson, best known for his film music,

Untitled for 7 Dancers aims at what Soto sees as the core of Swan Lake, the moment of transformation from human to animal, specifically woman to swan. An upstage digital display counts down towards that second when the transformation is complete.

The dancers appear as incredibly supple, lithe creatures. Movement is highly articulated and full of extravagant, often strange extensions. It’s almost as though the bodies are being broken and reformed. Sculptural pictures appear again and again. Tightly choreographed moments of unison appear effortlessly from the individuality. For all the dance’s highly eccentric movement, it still has great sensitivity. There is frequently a sense of yearning, perhaps of wanting this transformation to stop. Yet it’s inevitability trumps all.

Gauthier Dance in Marco Goecke’s Shara Nur
Photo Jeanette Bak

Another artist-in-residence at Gauthier Dance, Marco Goecke, now also director of the Staatsballett Hannover, completed the programme with his Shara Nur, a typically dark work full of his trademark quivering aesthetics.

A cloud of fog shrouds the stage, then sits ominously overhead. To music by Björk, dancers appear out of the haze. In red-shirts and black trousers, the cast (it was originally made on an all-male ensemble but here included one woman, albeit identically dressed) appear nervous. The movement is fragmented yet incredibly precise. Heads, arms and bodies, twitch and tremble. Shoulders are hunched as bodies engage in movement conversations.

More than the others, Shara Nur and its connection to Swan Lake is initially a puzzle. At first sight, there is little that suggests swans or lakes. Was that a folded paper swan scrunched in a hand, however? We also see one clearly later. Swans too in the form of bunches of black swan-shaped balloons carried across the stage and that later surround one performer.

A little research reveals that Shara Nur is actually a lake in Russia’s Tuva Republic, close to the Mongolian border. Because of the minerals dissolved in the water, the body looks red after a swim. Presumably, hence the men’s shirts. Those same minerals and the lake’s mud also have curative qualities, although where that fits in, if it does, like much else, remains hidden.

Missing from the original theatre programme is a piece by Marie Chouinard (which does actually have stylised tutus), perhaps a shame as it garnered the best comment at the time.

Swan Lakes from Gauthier Dance is available at until November 26, 2021.