A deconstructed symphony of movement and music. Maud Le Pladec’s Twenty-seven perspectives

Sadler’s Wells, London
October 30, 2023

In tackling Franz Schubert’s unfinished Eighth Symphony, French choreographer Maud Le Pladec makes the composer’s work visible, allowing the music to be heard, albeit heard somewhat differently, thanks to Pete Harden’s reconstruction of the score. She and Harden also provide the viewer with an ending, finishing the unfinished, as it were.

Structurally, Le Pladec’s Twenty-seven perspectives is inspired by the work of Swiss painter Rémy Zaugg, who reinterpreted Paul Cézanne painting, The House of the Hanged Man, by diagrammatically and cartographically rendering it in 27 perceptual sketches, actually a series of 51 pieces (number 23 is broken into a further 25 drawings) that is a detailed breakdown of artwork’s elements.

With the help of Harden, Le Pladec created 35 variations on the symphony’s first two movements. Harden’s unravelling and reassembly of the score comes with techno touches. Forty-second cells, extracted from the first movement initially sound like the music has not only been chopped up but put through the mangle for good measure. And yet, it’s not uncomfortable. The power of the original not only remains, but seems to become more audible as the work progresses, right through to the composer’s writing of the missing third movement.

Twenty-seven perspectives by Maud Le Pladec
Photo Konstantin Lipatov

Like the music, the dance initially feels very fragmented. On a stripped back stage and designer Éric Soyer’s white floor that’s curved up at the sides, a little like a skateboard ramp, ten dancers in individual sporty tops and pants or shorts appear to be each be performing their own personal variation. It’s like everyone is dancing their own sentence or sequence in their own way. It looks unstructured, chaotic even, but is actually very ordered and very precise, as evidenced by the circles, diagonal patterns and little moments of unison that keep coming back.

The dance is fluid. The performers swirl around the space. They lunge and create arcs. Slow sections are interspersed with moments of speed, and sudden stops before it all takes off again. Even when each performer is moving differently, connections start to appear. There are similar arm gestures and canon. And, most intriguingly, and as in the music, you start to recognise things from the past that reappear almost as ghosts.

Having stripped themselves of their top layers of clothing, the dance similarly reveals new things. A duet as the others pause is full of perfectly executed lifts and carries. There’s drama of sorts as a woman repeatedly faints in the arms of her companion. Solos start to emerge.

There are a number of solos. Twenty-seven perspectives may be non-narrative but all seem to carry emotional intensity, to be telling a personal story or carrying hidden meaning. One, full of broken movement, powerful straight arms and penetrating looks, especially so. Again, just like in the movement itself, there’s a sense of echoes of the past in the present.

It ends on a high. The closing moments, which once mare hark back to what has gone before feel almost celebratory. As the music and light fades, the performers spin, arms held out to the sides (one of many recurring motifs), each turning endlessly, yet each also in their own way.

There are several theories but we can only suppose why Schubert never finished his opus. We have two movements in full: a wonderful allegro moderato and then a sublime andante con moto. On the back of the last page of the latter are the beginnings of a scherzo but then just blank pages, although one discovered in the 1960s is believed to have come from before those empty leaves.

Absolutely not empty is Twenty-seven perspectives. Not for a second. It maybe a work of mathematical abstraction, but it’s one where dance and music truly come together as one, and that comes with surprising bursts of emotion. It is a fascinating watch and quite intriguing.