REVIEW: Strasbourg 1518 (Auckland Arts Festival)

Review by Cynthia Lam

[Dance to Live]

Combining dance, theatre and storytelling, Strasbourg 1518 is an exhilarating contemporary performance that explores ideas of revolution and the arts within both a historical and contemporary framework. Directed and choreographed by Lucy Marinkovich, with Lucien Johnson as writer and composer, Strasbourg 1518 is based around the dancing plague of 1518 – begun by a lone woman, up to 400 people joined and took to dancing for days. 

The show poses that timeless question regarding the relevance of the arts to humanity, when The Rational Man (Nick Blake) interrupts the opening duet of Michael Parmenter (Death) and Marinkovich (The Maiden) and addresses the audience: ‘Enough! I can’t stand dancing… what’s the point? Dance is completely redundant. And yet…. I’m drawn to this history… there’s something important, vital even’. As Death Michael Parmenter combines grace, charm and macabre, manipulating his human subjects like that of a skilled puppeteer. 

Combined with the raw energy and virtuosity of its dancers, the Choreomanics (Sean MacDonald, Xin Ji, Hannah Tasker-Poland, Katie Rudd, Eliza Sanders and Emmanuel Reynaud) give an exciting and evocative performance. Sean MacDonald’s emotive performance when portraying a sinister Bishop/ Holy Man is mesmerising.

There are moments when I feel I’m being transported into a timeless vortex through the juxtaposition of repetitive sounds (think falling chimes against one long continuous echo), the misty setting, and the dancers interweaving in and out between each other as if fading away.

The climax of the show portrays anarchy on stage: shouting angry bodies, papers strewn everywhere, banners of protest: ‘the oceans are rising’, ‘where is our daily bread’, ‘fear of everlasting damnation’; culminating in an almost bacchic like frenzy. These acts of rebellion bring the historical event of the dancing plague (possible explanations being in response to the threat of escalating inequality, misogyny and oppression) into a contemporary spotlight, partly reflecting the world in which we live in today. 

I leave the performance feeling both exhilarated and soothed: perhaps dancing is the answer to humanity after all?

Strasbourg 1518 is presented by Borderline Arts Ensemble and plays ASB Waterfront March 19-20, 2021 as part of the Auckland Arts Festival.

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