Friday, January 20, 2012


Paul White in "Anatomy of an Afternoon"

Choreographer: Martin del Amo and Paul White
Composer: Mark Bradshaw

Sydney Opera House Playhouse Jan. 9-16

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Having marvelled at Paul White’s extraordinary performance in the exhilarating Tanya Liedtke work, “Construct”, but not having had the opportunity previously to see any of Martin del Amo’s choreography, the prospect of seeing them work together on a collaboration which, according to the publicity, was inspired by Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of a Faun” was very enticing.

Along with the rest of the audience I cooled my heels in the foyer until the doors of the auditorium were opened right on 8 o’clock, the advertised starting time. As we took our seats, Paul White, dressed in jeans and T shirt, was already standing stock-still onstage, together with three musicians surrounded by an eclectic collection of instruments including a Tibetan singing bowl, who were playing gentle atmospheric music slightly reminiscent of Debussy’s original haunting score for “Afternoon of a Faun”

As I settled down in my seat in the full theatre, I quickly scanned the minute type in the complimentary (Thank you!) program to learn that “Anatomy of an Afternoon” had started out as a choreographic research project the aim of which was to allow Martin del Amo “to investigate how the practical exploration of an extant choreography would affect me as a choreographer creating original work” and that the research preparation included a visit to the zoo.

The houselights dimmed and attention focussed completely on the spot-lit figure of Paul White, who, after what seemed an eternity, slowly, very slowly, began to move one arm. He moves and isolates other parts of his body until eventually he starts to run in circles then in different directions. He also starts to remove his clothing (clumsily and distractingly) until he’s clad only in underpants, which at various points he also threatens to remove.

Remembering the visit to the zoo, and the original inspiration, I was looking for the faun, but soon realised that what I was seeing were a series of extraordinary evocations of a variety of animals, including what appeared to be a lizard sunning itself on a rock, a big cat, possibly a lion pacing around its enclosure, perhaps a dog chasing its tail, certainly an old-man kangaroo, also sunning itself, and very definitely, a monkey which at one stage bends over, slowly bares its backside to the audience, reaches in and withdraws an imaginary (hopefully) faeces which it draws past its nose. This last image drew embarrassed giggles from some of the audience.

Between the animals were series of quite lovely poses, seamlessly woven together, rather reminiscent of those of an artist’s model. Never did recognise the faun.

This is an intriguing work. Paul White is a remarkable, highly skilled dancer blessed with a beautiful body. He has extraordinary control over every muscle and “Anatomy of an Afternoon” gives him every opportunity to demonstrate that, as well as his amazing facility to morph into various animals.

But there is also a puzzle. Both the da Vinci inspired poses and the forensic examination of animal movement  ensures that there was no problem in working out the ‘anatomy’ part of the title. Had it been called “Anatomy of an Afternoon at the Zoo”, the response may have been different.

However it is the tenuous connection with Nijinsky’s “Afternoon of the Faun” that is much less clear. Perhaps the episode with the faeces was meant to approximate the audience outrage which resulted from Nijinsky’s mimed masturbatory movements in the original work. If so, then it came across simply as a try-hard attempt which simply caused embarrassment rather than shock. Also the clumsy way in which the dancer discarded his clothing was unnecessarily silly and demeaning and simply drew embarrassed giggles from the audience.

Martin del Amo and Paul White’s desire to explore movement boundaries is to be applauded and encouraged, and although this looks more like a work-in-progress than a finished work, I hope Martin del Amo has found a solution to his quandary. But personally, I would rather just like to see Paul White dance, without having to puzzle over unnecessary tenuous connections to other works ?

Paul White in "Anatomy of an Afternoon"