Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Dancing Baroque? Handel and Rameau

Handel's Giulio Cesare at the ENO raises intereesting questions. Michael Keegan-Dolan is a choreographer, so his staging would naturally emphasize dancing, not singing or even drama. Dance is part of the baroque aesthetic, but to what extent? If any composer is associated with dance it's Rameau. Rameau's rhythms throb in intricate patterns, so energetic that they beg expression through physical action. Prior to Stravinsky, Rameau defined movement in music.

Rameau's Les Indes galantes is now available on medici.tv.  It's a work of near genius, with William Christie and Les Arts Florissantes who have the genre in thir souls. Christie shows how vital and vivid period performance can be, done well and on its own terms. The cast is particularly strong - Partricia Petibon, Nicolas Rivenq, Danielle De Neise, Nathan Berg, João Fernandes, Christoph Stehl,  Malin Hartelius etc) so it's pretty outstanding. Baroque is stylized, but it isn't dull. The acting, directed by Andrei Serban, is full of wit and personality. True to the baroque spirit,  the designs (Marina Draghici) are extravagant. Rameau chose his subjects because they'd be visually exciting to audiences in his day who had probably never seen much of Peruvians, Turks or "the savages of America". Draghici can thus blend elements of alien cultures with fantasy : a Matelot in an Ottoman Court, for example, and a stunning recreation of the Inca God of the Sun. Magically lit and beautifully filmed.

But this Les Indes galantes is essential, I think, for dance fans because it shows how dance can be integrated into an opera. The choreographer is Blanca Li. She "conducts" the dancers as effectively as Christie conducts singers and players. Ensembles move as the music moves, dancers are individualized just as instruments are individualized.  The elegant orderliness of Rameau's music allows quite complex choreography, which Li and her dancers execute flawlessly. For three hours!  These people are seriously fit.  Blanca Li blends different dance styles, like getting the "Savages" to strike angular poses, channelling Diaghilev in the Rite of Spring. Again, the spirit of baroque, all influences joyously mixed in riotous profusion.  I didn't go to the ENO Handel Guilio Cesare last night, having seen Michael Keegan- Dolan's last ENO double bill. His Rite of Spring wasn't bad because the dancing "spoke".  His Duke Bluebeard's Castle fell apart for me because dramatically the ideas weren't thought through. So maybe that's the conundrum choreographers have to face when they stage opera. Dance is a tool, but dramatic logic is what makes dance in opera work.

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