Ballet National de Marseille – Le Silo, Marseille –

 23 March 2012

Dancing Times

Marseille is designated European Capital of Culture in 2013, and the city is undergoing an unprecedented renaissance with new roads slicing through and below the old town, and in the docklands, once the industrial and commercial heart of Marseille, internationally renowned architects have been commissioned to revive an almost desolate area, creating cultural centres, museums, office and apartment blocks. One such building is the “Silo”, a former warehouse, now transformed into a 2,000-seater auditorium. Inaugurated by the Ballet National de Marseille in September 2011, the company returned in March to perform La Verité 25X par Seconde, a collaboration between company director, Frédéric Flamand and the Chinese artist, sculptor, architect and dissident, Ai Weiwei. This is the latest in a series of ballets which Flamand has created together with international architects.

The title comes from film-maker Jean-Luc Godard who described film as ‘the truth 25 frames per second’, and Flamand describes the work as being ‘a reflection on changes in perception, the ambiguity of the relationship between truth and lies, plagued as it is by evolutions in technology.’ The programme notes also make reference to an 18th century story of a young man who spends his life in a tree, watching ‘real life’ below. To confuse things still further, Ai Weiwei has transformed the tree into a number of metal ladders, which become part of the choreography, and as with the company’s previous collaborations with architect-designers, a good deal of time is spent carrying the ‘scenery’ on and off-stage, assembling this and then clambering over and around it. However, there are some stunning visual images with the ladders stacked into piles or hoisted on high, including an evocative image with the young protagonist perched on the ladders high above the stage, watching the world below. The lighting, also by Flamand, contributes much to the performance and onstage video cameras sweep across the action multiplying images on the cyclorama. With no background in dance, Flamand is dependent upon the dancers’ improvisation, and the company respond well to this challenge, with extremely demanding, athletic dancing, which presumably is then ‘directed’ by Flamand. However, without a choreographer’s skill and vision, the dance remains simply one of several elements making up the performance; the choreography is without structure, let alone without meaning, it simply goes on and on until it stops. There is one very happy scene, danced to Vivaldi, where unexpectedly, the company no longer dance in unison, but form duos and trios, inventing interesting patterns, very much in an 18th century style. Most of the music is very contemporary, suiting the often aggressive mood of the production, and the costumes simple, in monotones of grey, black and white. It is a pity that the multi-national company remain anonymous, the dancers’ names simply listed alphabetically, as some of these deserve recognition.