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Lyon Opera Ballet, Trois Grandes Fugues, Adelaide Festival Theatre, 6-7 March 2020 Adelaide Festival

Confronting at times, but also exhilarating in its sheer energy and technical accomplishment, Lyon Opera Ballet’s Trois Grandes Fugues (Three Grand Fugues) was performed to an appreciative near capacity audience at Saturday’s matinee session. It was a long way from Swan Lake, with no tulle tutus or point slippers in sight. Instead we were treated to a trilogy of ballets by three acclaimed female choreographers, each responding to Beethoven’s controversial score, Grosse Fuge for violin quartet. This is considered Beethoven’s most contemporary work and has been described as ‘difficult’ and ‘problematic’, meaning there were few harmonies for those of us who like our classical music to be easy-listening.

The opening piece by Lucinda Childs had a minimalist grace and beauty that acted as a counterpoint to the occasionally tormented wail of the violin score. Male and female partners danced sans ballet shoes, clad in simple figure-hugging grey costumes, that allowed us to admire those gorgeous muscular physiques and the harmonious line of their toned bodies as they extended their limbs in a rapidly changing sequence of classical arabesques.

The second piece, by Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, discarded male/female partnering for a unisex ensemble of six male and two female dancers, all clad in loose-fitting black suits and white shirts. Beethoven’s agitated score for violins was matched in this piece by the truly impressive vigour of the dancers as hurled their bodies across the stage, progressively stripping off jackets and loosening shirts until by they reached an exhausted conclusion. The audience applause was perhaps rewarding the sheer dynamism of the dancers as they pushed themselves to their physical limits.

For the third iteration of the Grosse Fugue, the unconventional choreography by Maguy Marin mirrored the ‘difficulty’ of the musical score. Four female dancers, barefoot and clad in gender-concealing red tunics, variously leapt, squirmed and twitched, or shuffled with hunched postures and crab-like movements, as if challenging the conventions of classical ballet through choreography that was deliberately awkward and unbeautiful.

Yes mums, if this acclaimed company is setting a benchmark for contemporary ballet, as it may well be, then there will not be many tutus in the future for your little aspiring ballerinas. But there will be a future for dancers interested in embracing the ever-expanding artistic field of contemporary dance.

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