Faun / As You Are
It’s a long shadow. Almost a century after his choreography redefined dance and its relationship to the other arts, Vaslav Nijinsky still holds a fascination for choreographers. The attraction isn’t just his mould-breaking movement vocabulary, but also the personal tragedy of his descent into madness – vividly captured in the unexpurgated edition of his diary – and the raw deal of history: the choreography for Le Sacre du Printempswas every bit as innovative as Stravinsky’s score, but while the boos and hisses at the Paris premiere killed the ballet, they bestowed a mythical status on the music and helped it become a popular concert hall tour de force
In his 2003 version of Le Sacre, David Bolger neutralised Stravinsky’s polyrhythms with a sleek veneer of contemporary tribal primitivism in the form of stag and hen party rambunctiousness. Confident in its irreverence, his version showed how the long-thought “undanceable” score was suitable for witticisms and a wry look at modern boy-meets-girl.
In Faun, Bolger returns to another stormy Paris premiere, Nijinsky’s L’Après Midi d’un Faune, which survived equal doses of boos and applause on opening night to become part of the Ballet Russe repertory and the first modernist ballet. Its angular and abrupt movement was controversial, performed in a two dimensional side-to-side pattern like an Egyptian painting with heads constantly turned sidewards. But most indignation arose from the Faun’s final masturbatory gesture when it lowers its body on a nymph’s veil with an orgasmic spasm.
Revisiting the core of the controversy, Bolger shows how nowadays we’re less prudish about that sort of thing, as dancers recount a modern day matter-of-fact occurrence of a guy wanking on a girl’s scarf. Time might have cauterised our sensibilities to the extent that modern audiences are unshockable, but the Faun’s gesture retains its significance on stage as much in 2010 as it did in 1912: the discovery of self through the discovery of sexuality.
There are no cheeky-chappy nudges and winks in this exploration, except a sequence where all six dancers lie on their stomachs and move heads and shoulders to Queen’s ‘I Want To Break Free’. A welcome mood-breaker, this eventually leads to a re-interpretation of the original ballet – to Debussy’s lushly impressionistic twelve minute score – where three fauns (James Hosty, Robert Jackson and Eddie Kay) court with three nymphs (Megan Kennedy, Lisa McLoughlin and Emma O’Kane).
Although different in scale and form, Faun respectfully retains some of the original’s unique two-dimensional vocabulary. It’s as if Bolger seeks to empathise with Nijinsky’s plight as an artist suppressed by contemporary morality, rather than celebrate his own freedom to create for broad-minded audiences. Indeed, it’s a freedom that is questioned: can the self be discovered without moral parameters?
That’s partly answered in Muirne Bloomer’s As You Are. Conformity is a constant in her futuristic world, where cyborg-like beings are controlled by James Hosty as a kind of Dr. Coppélius character. His gradual awakening to the stifling conformity around him – via some self-harm with a red marker on his white suit – ends with verbal introspection that is at odds with much of the mechanistic movement around him. Bloomer provides lots of camp playfulness along the way, with frequent exaggerated superhero lunges and strikes – the kind that warrant a comic book “kapowww” or “krrrunch!” A living version of da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, played by Robert Jackson, acts as a foil to the prevailing consensus, but Hosty’s character is the real agent of change.
Bloomer’s Future Shock strategy might highlight the personal alienation found in our increasingly binary society, but it could also be dismissed as too blunt. The relationship between individual and community in today’s social media-driven world seems more complex and subtle, something that lies at the heart of Faun. It’s a complexity found in myth, and Bolger’s reverential treatment of Nijinsky’s masterpiece allows that elusiveness to breathe. He has resisted stamping a modern interpretation on a classic and, although Faun is inconclusive in its summation, it is also probably his most satisfying work to date.