Jump to content
miliosr

Thoughts on Alexander Ekman's Play

Recommended Posts

Bel Air Classiques has released Alexander Ekman's Play on DVD and BluRay.

Debuting at the Garnier in 2017 and recorded in December of that year, Play is Ekman's full-evening discursion into the notions of "play" and "work". Set to Mikael Karlsson's original (and at times very tuneful) original score, Ekman has divided Play into two acts -- the first being 45 minutes in length and the second being slightly longer. Ekman's "theme" (to the extent I can discern one) is that "play" is fun and "work" is drudgery. As these aren't exactly original or riveting insights, Play rises and falls both on its episodic set pieces and the dynamism of the Paris Opera Ballet (POB) dancers.

Of the two sections, the first is the more entertaining because, well, it's more playful. The viewer gets to see the POB dancers romping about in various activities, including a "duet" between the coryphee Simon Le Borgne (in a star making performance), and (I think) the sujet Marion Barbeau which Ekman sets on large, white boxes. Also on hand for this is the coryphee Adrien Couvez (the hardest working man in French show business on the night), who acts as a kind of ball boy frantically moving the boxes around the stage for Barbeau. The first acts ends with the dramatic dropping of thousands of green balls onto the stage from the rafters, which the dancers then have the time of their lives playing in before the curtain falls.

The second act suffers somewhat in comparison to the first as the "work" sections consist largely of monotonous tasks like repetitive walking. (Think of it as mild Lucinda Childs or Andy de Groat, which was already pretty mild.) The work section ends with Le Borgne rejecting the soul-crushing conformity of work by stripping off his somber clothes and walking off stage. (It's like a moment in a Martha Graham dance when the heroine experiences a moment of revelation.) But Ekman doesn't leave things there (although he probably should have.) The entire company returns to the stage one last time to throw plastic balls to the audience members before taking their bows to (it must be said) loud cheers.

Let's get the good of Play out of the way first: It's undeniably entertaining. Some sections are more entertaining than others but my interest never flagged no matter how juvenile or just plain bizarre the stage action was. (And some of it is bizarre.) In the POB '2017-18 Season' thread, I suggested that Play might look like a big budget M-G-M production of 60s New York postmodern dance. Having now seen Play, I stand by that description. If Busby Berkeley had had a M-G-M-sized budget at his disposal and had decided to produce the hell out of Yvonne Rainer and Lucinda Childs and Trisha Brown, the result might look like Play.

In addition, the dancers are clearly enjoying themselves and giving the material their all. In particular, Simon Le Borgne is a standout as 'The Boy in Orange' and he displays comic timing worthy of Buster Keaton. Finally, Karlsson's score is lively and diverting in its own right; the central theme being a particular standout.

Now for the negative: I also stand by my prior speculation in the '2017-18 Season' thread as to what business a great classical company has performing something like Play. Ekman does use classical technique at times but to the extent he uses it it's as an adornment or affectation. Play's classicism has no life organic to itself and certainly any reasonably competent contemporary company could perform Play as well as the POB dancers. To that end, Ekman's use of the POB dancers' technique is truly vampiristic in that he exploits their obvious athleticism to make his movement ideas appear more significant than they really are.

In and of itself, Play would be a harmless one-off. But given how the POB now performs contemporary or semi-contemporary spectacles like Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du Printemps, Maurice Bejart's Bolero and Crystal Pite's Seasons' Canon better that they do some standard works of classical and neo-classical repertory, the company's dynamism (and they are dynamic) in Play should be concerning.

 

 

Edited by miliosr

Share this post


Link to post
3 hours ago, miliosr said:

In and of itself, Play would be a harmless one-off. But given how the POB now performs contemporary or semi-contemporary spectacles like Pina Bausch's Le Sacre du Printemps, Maurice Bejart's Bolero and Crystal Pite's Seasons' Canon better that they do some standard works of classical and neo-classical repertory, the company's dynamism (and they are dynamic) in Play should be concerning.

 

 

Thank you for your detailed review. The issue seems one of long standing...Very few companies have the POB resources for the classics and/or works in the classical tradition. From the outside looking in at least, it seems a shame they aren't more interested in directing those resources in that direction.

Share this post


Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×