Lyon Opera Ballet
Trois Grandes Fugues: Grande Fugue, Die Grosse Fuge, Grosse Fugue
London, Sadler’s Wells
18 October 2017
Gallery of pictures by Foteini Christofilopoulou
How many ways can you hear the same piece of music? This inspired programme by Lyon Opera Ballet suggested, with elegant simplicity, that there are as many ways to hear something as there are people to hear it.
Three choreographers, over the past 15 years, have taken Beethoven’s Die Grosse Fuge, Op 133, and created a dance work. Trois Grandes Fugues brought them together. Presented at Sadler’s Wells as part of this year’s Dance Umbrella programme, it proved to be a striking and moving combination of responses – each so different from the other, in fact, that the music itself seemed to change as each dance interpretation unfurled.
Lucinda Childs’s Grande Fugue, created last year, was the most expansive of the three, with the score transcribed for string orchestra and 12 dancers on stage. Dressed in dove-grey, these six couples traced patterns as delicate as the lace fretwork thrown in shadow on to the back wall. Beethoven’s fugue, written near the end of his life, is a volatile mix of sharply shifting moods and silences, pierced with struggle and intimations of chaos. Yet, the American choreographer found a sweeping lyricism in it, her classical movements full of poignant echoes and shadows, whether in gently scissoring arms, low arabesques or slow lifts. It was a “keep calm and carry on” response to Beethoven’s raging storm – possibly a little too serene to be wholly engaging.
The fugue’s contrapuntal complexities were clearly catnip to the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Her Die Grosse Fuge, created in 1992, was thrillingly ferocious. Six men and two women, all in dark suits and white shirts and starkly lit by bare lighting, hurled themselves into the maelstrom of the music – here played with much more spiky aggression – stabbing, slicing, running, tumbling, jumping with legs tucked into their chests, throwing themselves to the ground. The dancers’ fists were clenched, but they were smiling, too – and the choreography loosened as jackets came off and shirts were untucked or discarded. It was a sleeves-rolled-up, “bring it on” interpretation and its pugnacious energy built into something that felt absolutely joyous.
Lastly, the French choreographer Maguy Marin’s Grosse Fugue, from 2001, started with four women dressed in red tearing back and forth across the stage, as though in a race against the music. Here, the savagery of Beethoven’s dissonance and confusion was revealed – in their initial isolation and painfully jerky articulations, their slumped postures and hanging arms, these women expressed a deep, affecting despair. One sat with her back to us, her upper body heaving as though she were racked with sobs. And yet, they kept getting up, and slowly coming together as pairs or a cohesive group, adding a hip wiggle, attempting melancholy half-handstands. If Beethoven’s fugue is a glimpse into the abyss, these women, whatever anguish they harboured, weren’t going in without a fight. Their defiance, finally, shimmered through everything from dainty fairy steps to grand floor tumbles – and it was truly exhilarating to watch.