Spain and Morocco merge in an amber glow

The dance festival circuit is a blessing for such charismatic performers as Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Sylvie Guillem, Akram Khan, and Russell Maliphant.

They don’t twiddle their thumbs waiting for a choreographer to choose them. Instead, they control their careers, deciding what they will dance, with whom, and where they will tour, by creating their own festival-friendly duets or working with small ensembles.

In recent years, Australian audiences have seen Cherkaoui with Khan, a group of Shaolin monks and his own ensemble, Guillem with both Khan and Maliphant, and Khan with Juliette Binoche.

And this week, to open the 2012 Spring Dance festival at the Sydney Opera House, Cherkaoui is back once more with the great flamenco dancer, Maria Pagés in their duet, Dunas.

When I spoke to Cherkaoui a few months ago he was in Brazil, preparing for his new work based on the tango, a co-production for Sadlers Wells Theatre and La Monnaie in Brussels and in May next year, he is tackling Ravel’s Bolero with his collaborator, Damien Jalet, for the Paris Opera Ballet.

He never stops travelling.

“What’s wonderful with dance”, he said, “is that it’s so universal. Even though there are very specific dances, folkloric or traditional dance forms, still it’s two arms, two legs, a head. There’s something very common about the human body and a lot you can learn and share from others.

“I very often work around contact, how our bodes can interact physically, literally, and how these bodies can express something that we both discover”.

That’s evident in Dunas, in which the long, expressive arms of Cherkaoui and Pagés reach out to one another, and create their own story, one that unites their backgrounds, Moorish and Spanish.

In London last year Pagés performance in Dunas inspired the critic, Clement Crisp, into an uncharacteristic shiver of delight:

“Her feet [are] driven by the trills and thunders of her art, with castanets that purr and cry and live. Every step, every action, every stormy flurry and every yielding pose, speak of movement as hypnotic as any you may wish to see. Her demons become ours as she dances”.

Dunas’s amber-lit, diaphanous gauze hangings, in which Cherkaoui and Pagés intertwine, reminded Crisp of the the effect created by the swirling fabric of the dance pioneer, Loie Fuller (see video below) – an interesting comparison.

Dance and gauze are regular partners on stage, from the white billowing fabric of La Bayadère to Martha Graham’s fondness for climbing into gauze wrapping and for the gauze clouds that Jirí Kylián used for his work, Petite Mort.

The Dunas’ gauzes represent the sand dunes of Morocco’s south where Cherkaoui and Pagés travelled for inspiration.

Dunas is at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre from August 22 to 26.

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Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © Koen Broos

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © Koen Broos

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © David Ruano

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © David Ruano

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © David Ruano

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Maria Pagés in Dunas, photo © David Ruano