Related Rocks – 9th December

Related Rocks
Les noces

Akram Khan, Rachel Krische, Moya Michael, Inn Pang Ooi, Shanel Winlock (dancers)
choreography by Akram Khan [Related Rocks]

Bill Viola (video art) [Déserts]

Susan Bullock (soprano)
Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano)
John Daszak (tenor)
Peter Sidholm (baritone)
John Alley, Ian Brown, John Constable & Clive Williamson (pianos)
David Hockings & Fiona Ritchie (percussion) [Les noces]

Sound Intermedia, London Sinfonietta Chorus, London Sinfonietta conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 9 December, 2001
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

The first leg of ’Related Rocks’ closed with this enterprising if awkwardly arranged triptych of, ironically, unrelated pieces. Related Rocks itself (1997) left a rather equivocal impression at its UK premiere two years ago. Paradoxically, positioning the forces at the rear of the QEH stage seemed to give the music greater impact; the pervasive electronic component – derived from the sounds of a baroque cello and ’destroyed’ piano – taking on a tangible presence in the context of the two pianos and two percussionists whose shimmering textures and toccata-like brilliance occupied the sonic foreground.

The stage itself was taken up with choreography devised by Akram Khan, the South Bank’s choreographer-in-residence. What he describes as ’Contemporary Kathak’, the combining of Indian Classical dance with a broad-based, modern-dance technique, is an athletic realisation of the rhythmic animation inherent in Lindberg’s music. Five dancers, their black attire in stark contrast to the white light of the stage, enacted a sequence involving permutations of the ensemble – akin to a freeform rethink of Balanchine’s dance-steps for Stravinsky’s Agon. While a deeper synchronicity between sound and vision was only fitfully in evidence, the combination of the two never felt forced or redundant.

Unfortunately, this was not the case with Bill Viola’s video art for Varese’s Déserts (1954). This craggy, uncompromising masterpiece of the composer’s late years yields expressive vulnerability, conveyed as much by the ’deserts’ of the inner person as by actual terrain. Esa-Pekka Salonen directed a confident account, a shade unsubtle in expression, well co-ordinated with the video. A pity that only an overhead screen, rather than wrap-round projection, was feasible, as the staid visuals of desert scenes and sub-aqua footage might have benefited from a more spatial presentation. Nothing, however, could have enlivened the catatonic sequences of the man breakfasting to the visceral sonic imagery of Varese’s electronic interludes: why were the 1961 final versions, recently re-mastered, not used? The final disintegration of the human returned to the primal suggested not so much a metaphysical outcome as a tying up of disjunctive and indifferently conceived planes of thought. The visual component added nothing to Varese’s potent soundscsape, suggesting that, though Viola may not partake of the cynicism of his age, he has – at least on this occasion – succumbed to its vacuousness. The true ’visual counterpoint’ to this music remains to be evolved.

Paradoxically, the one item on the programme conceived as a ballet was the one performed without any choreographic or visual element. Not that Les noces (1923), Stravinsky’s masterly and still startling abstraction of a Russian peasant wedding, its emotion frozen in sound and gesture, needs to be seen to be experienced. The present performance was an engrossing, if at times over-frenetic one – female and male choral singers divided left and right, with the four pianos and four percussionists of Stravinsky’s ’final version’ set behind the four soloists.

Accurate and animated as were Susans Bullock and Bickley, there were upstaged by John Daszak and Peter Sidholm, making the most of their opportunities to project the characters who people this inventive and exhilarating score. In such music, maybe the ideal choreography is that left to the mind’s eye.

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