bodies, guitar and beethoven 7

peter barclay: legs on the wall, symphony

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

ACKNOWLEDGING THE SHEER RHYTHMIC EXUBERANCE AND MASTERY OF BEETHOVEN’S SEVENTH, WAGNER FAMOUSLY DESCRIBED THE SYMPHONY AS THE “APOTHEOSIS OF THE DANCE.” ALL BUT 200 YEARS AFTER ITS PREMIERE IN 1813, SYDNEY PHYSICAL THEATRE COMPANY LEGS ON THE WALL WRAPS ITSELF AROUND STEFAN GREGORY’S SUPERB ELECTRIC-GUITAR RENDITION OF THE SEVENTH AS THE HUB OF ITS EVOCATIVE NEW WORK, SYMPHONY.

Commissioned by NORPA as part of its Generator program, director Patrick Nolan’s largely dance creation is, at once, a homage to the structure and dynamic of Beethoven’s original and an extended meditation on “the dance of self and other.”

Symphony is structured around the four movements of the Seventh. There are four performers, one featured in each movement. The first begins with the blast of a loud, sharp chord. The lights reveal a singular figure (Rhiannon Spratling) on an open stage. Like a child alone at play, her rhythmic, repetitive dance builds with the ebb and flow of the guitar. Again and again, she throws herself wildly across the stage. Three performers (Matt Cornell, Amy McPherson and Joshua Thomson) bring on rectangular metre-high boxes impeding her dance. The boxes line up in four orderly rows, suggesting a landscape encroached on by the grid of suburb or city. The number ‘one’ projected on a box signifies the first movement. Dancer and performers begin playing together. In their exuberance, they knock all the boxes over until they lie chaotically about. The dancer is distressed by the chaos. She carries a box upstage as the movement comes to its close. The performers follow suit and begin building a wall as the lights fade to black and a long silence ensues. With the sombre refrain that introduces the second movement the performers complete the wall with four ‘windows.’

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

The wall becomes a potent image and device in Symphony. At the end of the first movement, it seems to represent the alienation of the dancers from each other. Over the next three movements, it will be a wall we look through, like peering through someone’s window. It will become the canvas on which video artist Andrew Wholley projects his wonderful imagery—brick wall, cityscape, circuit board, orbiting moon. It will become the space against which the performers dance, their own forms projected onto their bodies. Its four windows will come to represent both the four movements of the symphony and the four performers. In this regard, designer Alice Babidge has made the right choice to leave the performers in rehearsal clothes. Fnally, the wall will be smashed down and rebuilt as four separate structures.

Symphony then is a ‘self-conscious’ reflection on its own evolution and creation. Its imagery sparks reverberant thoughts without offering the relative certainty of meaning inherent in narrative. Music, dance and image are yoked together to produce a deeply intimate experience. Symphony is a subjective, impressionistic piece; it takes place in the mind of the beholder. Not unlike ‘the dance’ of life really. I would have paid the admission price just to hear Stefan Gregory’s masterly reworking of Beethoven!

NORPA Generator: Legs on the Wall, Symphony, director Patrick Nolan, composer Stefan Gregory, performers Matt Cornell, Amy McPherson, Rhiannon Spratling, Joshua Thomson, designer Alice Babidge, video Andrew Wholley, lighting Matt Cox; Lismore City Hall, Lismore, NSW, Nov 16, 17

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 32

© Peter Barclay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

11 December 2012