Paul White received a standing ovation last night after his performance of Meryl Tankard’s The Oracle at the Dunstan Playhouse.
Fifty-five minutes is a long time for one dancer to engage an audience, but The Oracle was outstanding.
Bird calls and the chirping of cicadas overlaid the complex and rhythmic music of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” against an arresting backdrop of video footage by Regis Lansac. Lansac’s kaleidoscopic cuts of White’s body played with symmetry and movement to set the scene for the organic life-force that burst forth as the dancer entered the stage.
Clad in a pair of loose underpants, there was no hiding the fact that the spectacle here is White’s body and, through the choreography, the emotion he is able to convey with it. His impeccable timing, fluidity and strength were enhanced by Ben Hughes’ lighting, creating the illusion of growth, multiplication and potency.
White’s only props were a swirling circular skirt and a dark velvet cloak which he brought to life magically, miraculously, with mastery and vigour.
When White reappears on stage naked and continues to dance with the same strength, grace and vulnerability, it is more poignant than thrilling, adding another layer of profundity to his performance.
Meryl Tankard was inspired to create The Oracle after seeing the paintings of Scandinavian artist Odd Nerdrum, who was himself inspired by the work of Rembrandt and Caravaggio.
Physically and emotionally demanding, The Oracle explores the conflicting forces of nature and man, masculinity and femininity, violence and nurturing, strength and vulnerability, life and death. It’s raw and dark but at the same time reassuring and galvanising.
The choreography was completed in collaboration with White, who has been performing the work since its world premiere in 2009. In the 2010 Australian Dance Awards The Oracle won Best Choreography and Outstanding Performance by a Male Dancer.
Tankard has not lost the unique edge and courage that her choreography brought to Adelaide as director of the Australian Dance Theatre in the 1990s and the experience that she gained working as a dancer with the Australian Ballet and Pina Bausch’s Wuppertaler Tanztheater in Germany.
When Tankard joined White on stage after the performance to receive the audience’s applause, there was an unmistakable feeling of warmth and gratitude inside the Dunstan Playhouse.
The Oracle will be performed at the Dunstan Playhouse until August 23.
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