Monte Carlo dance fest offers something for everyone

Without a doubt, Papaioannou deserves each superlative he ever received. His clever and distinct images will be imprinted on your mind for eternity.

THE HOFESH SHECHTER Dance Company performs ‘Grand Finale.’ (photo credit: RAHI REZVANI)
THE HOFESH SHECHTER Dance Company performs ‘Grand Finale.’
(photo credit: RAHI REZVANI)
The annual Monaco Dance Forum often invites some of the more attractive and creative dance-makers. The 2018 edition, under the directorship of Ballet de Monte Carlo, turned out to be particularly festive.
On this short visit one could have counted on new creations by Dimitris Papaioannou, Greece’s most celebrated choreographer, who won audience devotion way back in the ‘80s with his Medea, and received global attention after directing the opening and closing extravaganzas for the Olympic Games in Athens.
Hofesh Shechter is an Israeli choreographer who moved to London and received unprecedented attention soon after. He and his company are frequent guests on some of the world’s most prestigious stages.
Contrary to those two well-established companies, the third, Kukai Dantza, is a novice group that derives its inspiration from ancient Basque cultural heritage and iconography, as perceived by contemporary stage notions of project director Jon May Sein and collaborator Marcos Morau. A group of six able male dancers performed a fresh and innovating presentation. It was loaded with original material adapted from Basque traditional music, dance and indigenous ethnic costumes. Yet the work Osakara conveys visual and theatrical presence that goes beyond traditional folklore.
The title of Hofesh Shechter’s latest work, Grand Finale, shouldn’t be taken literally, as in the case of Ohad Naharin’s The Last Work, which preceded the one that soon followed. A reminder: Shechter was a dancer with Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company.
Live music is an integral part of Shechter’s choreographies, so much so that in the past, when his company danced in sports arenas accompanied by several sets of drums, hundreds crowded next to the stage and danced frantically. They came for Shechter’s music as if it was a rock concert.
In Grand Finale, musician and choreographer Shechter aimed for a more intimate collaboration between the exceptional musical quintet and dance sequences, due to oversized, movable partitions interchanging the spaces and positions of dance and orchestra. A light mist covered the stage, endowing a bleak surreal ambience where shadows swallowed the performers and revealed them again unexpectedly on the other side.
A cast of nine wonderful dancers worked as a tight ensemble, performing demanding tasks with flair and ease, shifting from chaotic, violent scenes to unison and contained lines in a blink. With rich and textured dance lexicon, it could’ve been a really good performance. But one over-stretched scene totally spoiled it, when the men dragged their female partners around the floor rather violently, as if they were rag dolls, stripped of their humanity. 
The best performance by far during these three evenings was The Great Tamer, which is neither dance nor theater in the purest sense. Some defined it as active installation. In fact, it defies borders and labels, and has an affinity to the Theater of the Absurd, the hard core of the avant-garde and visual arts’ radical genera of Arte Povera. This ingenious choreographer created a macabre universe in which dead men walk, astronauts visit Earth, and underworld creatures try to dig tunnels in a search for survival while others try to locate passages down under for similar reasons. Yet, it was layered by an adaptation of Johann Strauss’s “Blue Danube Waltz,” of all things.
The set is a shallow hill covered with overlapping gray, slate-like, man-sized boards. The grounds do not represent stability but lability. They are future archaeological excavations, places of death and rebirth. The stage looks like a construction site in a massive deconstructive process, or vice versa.
It is an austere creation spotted with numerous brilliant innuendos and references to Greek mythology and art history, including reenacted images of works by Botticelli, El Greco and an unforgettable scene based on Rembrandt’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp.” They perform the post-mortem enthusiastically, cut out the deceased entrails and, in a hearty bit, sit around a table enjoying the delicacies. After various limbs pop out from under the ruins or are shoved back into holes, the cannibalistic act is in sync with the contradictory motives of the piece.
Filled with inventive visuals such as shoes that grow roots, or a cave filled with treading thighs, all pale next to the most breathtaking scene, when hundreds of golden thin arrows are thrown on stage and stay upright, turning the gloomy gray hill into a field of golden wheat.
Without a doubt, Papaioannou deserves each superlative he ever received. His clever and distinct images will be imprinted on your mind for eternity.