Grass (The Place)
Giannandrea Poesio striking feature of Javier de Frutos's choreography is his distinctive movement vocabulary that encompasses and, at the same time, transcends various dance tech- niques and styles. This is the kind of move- ment vocabulary that requires constantly to be matched, if not counterbalanced, by an equally distinctive context in order not to become self-indulgent. Unlike last year's Transatlantic, de Frutos's new work Grass is not spoiled by an overwhelming narcissis- tic display of physical skills and stands out as one of the most interesting creations presented within this year's Dance Umbrella.
To set a work to Giacomo Puccini's Madame Butterfly and to use a sacred recording such as that of Maria Callas singing the title role can be rather risky for a number of reasons. First, because the operatic idiom and that of contemporary dance are seldom compatible and tend to clash, as has often been the case with many creations signed by other illustrious person- alities. Second, because the completeness of the operatic work makes the added choreo- graphic imagery heavily redundant, no mat- ter what is the dancemaker's approach. And, third, because both the operatic libret- to and the gamut of feelings and emotions suggested by the music tend to impinge on the choreographic rendition, thus turning it into a rather superficial and wearily literal translation of the sung text. Fortunately, in Grass de Frutos has managed to keep the opera and the dance on two different yet parallel levels, and it is this lack of interde- pendence that gives this work, in my opin- ion, its uniqueness and strength.
In the first section of Grass, the choreo-
`She's never been the same since that fall.' graphic imagery that develops in tandem with the second act of Puccini's opera is thus characterised by its own dramatic crescendo that contrasts with the sung drama of the young geisha. This dramatic dichotomy, however, does not result in a bold clash, even though some choreograph- ic solutions seem to contrast with the emo- tions conveyed by the music, and occasionally counterpoint the density of some well-known operatic passages with subtle humour or irony.
The story narrated by the disembodied voices and the actions carried out by the dancers engaged in a complex game of relationships share, in fact, the same sense of impending drama. By the time we reach the end of the second part of the perfor- mance and the music resumes after an intense duet danced to silence, the emo- tional fire is identical in both the singing Butterfly's poignant `Tu, tu, piccolo Iddio' — and the dancing — a combination of erotic and cruel images.
The fact that the silent duet, performed by two male interpreters in the nude, had been created previously for a completely different event does not affect the fluidity of the action. This intensely sensual, yet sexually violent choreographic exploration of male bonding matches perfectly well the operatic, themes of sorrow and sacrifice. After all the blood on the two male bodies could be the blood of Butterfly.
Although the choreography remains unaffected by the narrative nuances of the opera, the dancing takes full advantage of Puccini's thematic shadings. Indeed, the particular use of the music is another win- ning component of Grass, for it goes far beyond a mere rhythmical and melodic reading of the score. As in his previous works, de Frutos has explored in depth the possibilities offered by the music and used them to the full. The result is astonishing for it highlights an unexpected `danceabili- ty' of the chosen music, without being either blasphemous or irreverent. On the contrary, from the opening sequence the viewer is confronted with a kind of 'reli- gious' dancing that beautifully comple- ments the singing and never detracts from such an 'important' masterwork.
Indeed, ritual components are a common denominator of de Frutos's choreography. It can be safely said that his distinctive idiom relies greatly on what has already been referred to as 'esoteric' movements as well as on the particular use of specific `symbolic' patterns or geometrical figures — such as the circle that dictates and fixes the limit of the choreographic layout throughout Grass, a scenic element also to be found in his previous Transat- lantic.
Mind-boggling as it might sound, this multi-layered structure does not turn the work into one of those excessively cerebral performances that are so fashionable nowadays. On the contrary, Grass stands out for its immediacy. Not to be missed.