Wednesday, 12 October 2016

CAFeBudapest Festival: 'A Lake'

Hands and arms behave like legs and feet. Feet and legs act like arms and hands. And, with the most subtle twist of wrist or ankle, they can all transform into the necks and heads of flirting swans. 

This is Eszter Kálmán's A Lake, a playful and beautiful performance for two dancers that somehow manages to hover at the borders between ballet, puppetry, voguing and, erm, synchronised swimming. 

The starting point is Swan Lake - and snatches of Tchaikovsky can be heard in the modern electronic score. But there's far more than re-interpretation going on here. The stage is a jet black mirrored surface, littered at the start with what seem to be origami swans, but which we later realise are discarded tissues from a sneezing male dancer (Péter Bercsényi). Or are they? At one point he ceases his sniffling, lifts out a tissue from his pack and with the simplest hand gestures, he transforms a crumpled Kleenex into an egg, unfolded to become the wings of a bird. A female dancer in traditional tutu (Viktória Dányi), emerges en pointe. The music turns to house, she frees her hair and proceeds to use her arms to vogue the ballet moves, striding towards us like a drag queen on a Harlem runway. Later, both strip to Victorian striped swimwear and caps, 'dive' into the surface of the lake, turn on to their backs and perform a routine that reminds us that synchronised swimming is really upside-down ballet.

The theme is transformation, yet the tone is playful rather than tragic: a beach towel and red clothes-peg are stretched, twisted and pinched into a swan's wings, neck and beak; Dányi lifts a white dress over her head and it turns inside-out, dropping to become a black gown. Tissues, towels, clothes-hangers are animated into birds by the dancers. 

These elements of puppetry reach a climax in a routine in which Bercsényi uses a black marker to draw crosses onto the knees, elbows and neck of the frozen Dányi. From each X, he then draws out an invisible string, manipulating her moves like a puppet-master. She pirouettes and lunges, while he circles her, arms inscribing their own patterns in the air as he controls her. Once again, the worlds of voguing and ballet collide.

A Lake is part of the CAFeBudapest festival, a 17-day celebration of the avant-garde, from modern classical to electronic music (including new projects from UK artists The Bug and Squarepusher), theatre, dance and fine art. The descriptions in the programme (that is thick enough to be a guidebook) can be a little pretentious and give the impression that events are pretty cerebral. But the performance tonight is anything but: it is ingenious but also moving, funny, and tender.

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