[Review] A Dance of Heavenly Bodies by Andonis Foniadakis

For his first creation as the new director of Greece’s National Opera (GNO) Ballet, Andonis Foniadakis conjured a mystical universe of movement, image and text that transports the audience into an imaginary galaxy of human emotion, desire and achievement. Lasting about one hour, the dance theatre performance Galaxy is the first collaboration between GNO Ballet and the Greek National Theatre —a meeting that was quite overdue, since both companies have been active for decades, each in its own field. For his Galaxy, Foniadakis established an experimentation with movement and speech as the common ground between the two different realms of dance and acting, and as he told me when he first started working on the piece, his intention was to blur the lines between the two disciplines and “have the actors dance and the dancers speak”. This simple device was deployed extensively in the first half of the performance, creating intense moments of performative density and virtuosity that made perfect sense in an indirect, under-the-skin way. For me, the performance’s two actors (National Theatre’s Leoni Xerovassila and Konstantinos Georgalis) literally stole the show, with the way they pulled off demanding physical tasks, as well as their sensibility in terms of dynamic range, emotional subtlety, expression and restraint.

In these choreographed clouds of bodily movement, human parts moved like molecules, their dance flowing as if dictated by physics.

For Galaxy, Foniadakis chose to work with the subject of creation, birth, beginnings, thus referencing the new world emerging from this first-ever collaboration between the National Theatre and the GNO Ballet company. The Galaxy of the title takes the form of an abstract series of minimalist tableaux that transform concepts of astrophysics, philosophy and religion into performative vignettes of intense theatrical action. Foniadakis’s signature style of perpetual movement suited this theme perfectly: his ensembles, combined with abstract musical landscapes (by avant-garde composers of the 1960’s like Gyorgy Ligeti and Iannis Xenakis), brought to mind the restless dance of molecules that form gases or fluids. Its particular style and aesthetic aside, the choreography in Galaxy thus made clear a certain system of principles of relating: dancers formed relationships between them, their movement suggesting attraction, repulsion, unity, affinity, interdependence, destruction and so on. In these choreographed clouds of bodily movement, human parts moved like molecules, their dance flowing as if dictated by physics.

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Through its scenography (with sets designed by Sakis Birbilis and videos by Julien Tarride), Foniadakis’s Galaxy created a very particular ambience that, although it clearly evoked the vastness and beauty of outer space, it also strongly recreated its chilling emptiness. The performers in Galaxy were moving, bonding, interacting under this huge canopy of heavenly bodies or orbits, created on stage with a series of circles and semicircles of varying size (the largest of the three was as wide as the stage, as if the crescent of a setting planet had landed on stage). This humbling and awe-inspiring effect of syzygy, in combination with the particular choice of music, brought to mind the opening of Stanley Kubric’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, that famous scene where a series of planets are seen aligned in relation to the sun. In that sense, the whole performance was playing with our fascination with the universe, and more specifically, our fantasies about extraterrestrial life, cosmic matter, the stars:

Foniadakis had us looking out into the universe to find answers about the constellations of emotions and thoughts that are hidden inside us.

We often hear that “we are made of stardust” or that “we come from the stars”; this notion of our supposed past in the stars (one would say, in the embrace of God) is so strong, that we can locate it in pretty much all religions, science fiction films as well as our recent obsession with colonising space, migrating to Mars and so on. Our society genuinely feels nostalgic about an imaginary homeland out there in space, as if we have been denied of our birthright of a life among the stars, doomed to spend a life crawling on Earth instead. Perhaps this is why Foniadakis’s Galaxy is so brutal in its proposition: it transports us within the lightness, purity and ideal balance of a world beyond our own, whilst implying that this is a world we deserve and might as well reach one day. The brutality of it lies in that we’re, once again, merely left gazing at the stars, defeated by their enchanting beauty as it sinks into the darkness.

Performances of Antonis Foniadakis’s Galaxy by the Greek National Theatre and the Greek National Opera Ballet continue through November 27 at Rex Theatre in Athens.

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Images via National Theatre official website

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