Edinburgh International Festival
Dance and theatre reviews by Mark Brown
Don Quichotte Du Trocadéro
LA Dance Project
Cervantes meets Mr Bean meets hip hop in Franco-Spanish choreographer José Montalvo’s Don Quichotte Du Trocadéro, a dance piece in which a latter day Quixote (or, in French, Quichotte) makes his way, not through the Spanish countryside, but the cultural melting pot of contemporary Paris. Actor Patrice Thibaud (middle-aged, and shambling around in jeans and trainers) plays the hapless Quichotte as he designates a young breakdancer as his squire, Sancho Panza.
The piece is, with the abundant assistance of projected video and animation, largely set in and around the Paris Metro system. Here Cervantes’s unhinged would-be knight attempts to take his place among classical ballerinas, flamenco dancers, hip hop kids and youngsters performing the songs and dances of Africa.
The show is a bright and breezy celebration of multicultural Paris and, through Thibaud’s self-mocking humour, an entertaining comedy. However, as we see on the screen Quichotte waiting on horseback for a Metro train; Quichotte riding on a donkey; Quichotte (somewhat confusingly, given that we are in central Paris) mistaking a windmill for a menacing giant; one can’t help but feel that Montalvo is relying much too heavily upon the multi-media elements.
The choreography itself is beautifully executed and, in the first half hour, invigoratingly diverse. However, by the time we see competitive dances, between performers representing African-American hip hop and European ballet, and the cultures of West Africa and classical Andalusia, this joyful, but somewhat insubstantial work, has begun to repeat itself.
That said, there can be no question that Montalvo has created a genuinely popular entertainment. Not for the first time in my career did I find myself decidedly underwhelmed by a show which the audience has cheered from the stage.
If the audience response to Montalvo’s piece was enthusiastic, there were shades of 1913 (the year in which a performance of Schoenberg’s First Symphony in Vienna was abandoned due to a riot) during the triple bill by the LA Dance Project. As the second piece, American avant-garde choreographer Merce Cunningham’s 1964 work Winterbranch, came to a close, the adulation was punctured by booing from some patrons. What had so outraged them?
Maybe it was the industrial squeal and atonality of the soundtrack (American minimalist composer La Monte Young’s 2 Sounds). Perhaps it was the fact that Cunningham’s piece requires darkness, broken only by subtle spot lighting and occasional flashes of explosive illumination. Or it could have been the bold, defiant abstraction of the movement performed by the black-clad dancers. I suspect it was a combination of all three.
For my part, I don’t know what I enjoyed more, Cunningham’s audacious and exhilarating choreography or his continued capacity, four years after his death, to upset traditionalists. Winterbranch is both powerfully redolent of the United States in the Sixties (like an Allen Ginsberg poem envisioned in body and design) and more daring than most dance in the 21st century.
There is a laudable logic in placing Cunningham’s work in the middle of this programme. Presenting it after Benjamin Millepied’s variable, but often beautiful and humane 2012 piece Moving Parts reminds us that Winterbranch still carries “the shock of the new”. Following it with the gorgeous sensuality, and the harmonies and contrasts, of William Forsythe’s Quintett (which is danced to Gavin Bryars’s haunting composition Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet) brings to the fore the diverse powers of contemporary dance and the tremendous capacities of LA Dance Project.
There are capacities of a very different kind on display in First Love, Peter Egan’s superb performance, for Dublin’s Gate Theatre, of Samuel Beckett’s ironically titled prose monologue for an erudite beggar who is remembering his relationship with a prostitute. Long since destitute, following the death of his father, this man – who is, it seems, saved from the void only by the tattered remnants of his self-respect – stands before us in the filthy trousers, ragged coat and battered hat that once passed for Sunday best.
The down-and-out alights upon his first encounter with Lulu (who he randomly renames “Anna”). They met when she inconvenienced him by sitting on the park bench which had, for some time, been his home. From there, in spite of the violent hostility and suspicion embedded in him through years of disappointment and self-hatred, the tramp developed relations with the prostitute. It was a soiled, dilapidated affection, but an affection nevertheless.
The man’s speech is, typically of Beckett, rich, poetic and unrelenting. Darkly witty, it delights as much in its elegant vulgarities as it does in its more cultivated lexicon.
In the hands of a lesser writer, this monologue would have slipped into simple misanthropy, but there is a subtle, touching humanity in the man’s survival, his love of language and his need, despite himself, of human contact. All of which is given beautiful, nuanced, stoical-yet-vulnerable expression by Egan.
These reviews were originally published in the Sunday Herald on September 1, 2013
© Mark Brown