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Guest review 4: Designer Ahmad Fakhry on ‘Shostakovich, Rasa’

Mon 23 May 2016

Guest review 4: Designer Ahmad Fakhry on ‘Shostakovich, Rasa’

My first ever ballet review and my first ever ballet. 

On Sunday I went to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre not quite knowing what to expect from Alonzo King's Shostakovich, Rasa. At first I pictured the crowd in gowns and bow ties and fretted over my choice of old Nike Air Max, but like most things in Dublin it was very casual – though a few bow ties were spotted. There was certainly a buzz as everyone rushed to take their seats when they announced the doors were closing. 

Opening to a stage with 12 stunning dancers, the music was instantly intense. It reminded of the first moments of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood. Brash and sharp. Powerful and a little frightening, but you knew from the off that you were in for something good. The intensity did not subside as dancers exited and re-entered the stage in pairs and for solos. 

I was surprised at first by the minimal set design – a single line of light crossed the black backdrop, moving slowly upwards as the performance went on. I was so taken by the dancers’ movement that I didn't realise how far up the line had moved; it seemed to submerge the dancers and the audience as the drama unfolded on stage. The line of light was then mimicked in an incredible solo by one male dancer who performed with a 2m (or thereabouts) fluorescent tube. The simplicity of the prop and the passion from the dancer made it all the more engaging. The oddity of the solo was intriguing. Most pairs were a beautiful woman and a beautiful man pushing themselves with complete control, but perhaps this solo moment told more about the story unfolding than anything else. What that story is I don't know, but I certainly enjoyed it. 

As the line hit the top of the backdrop, we were blasted with a warm orange light, so bright that the dancers were now just silhouettes. Those silhouettes and shapes are what you imagine when you think of ballet dancers, and with that the mood lifted from the dark intense moments to a warm and heartfelt finish, resulting in a rousing applause. 

The second half, Rasa, was performed to a more upbeat but still contemporary and intense piece of music, an original score by Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain (yeah, I didn't know either). I later described it as world music meets scat or freestyle jazz. This was fast, off beat and wild at times, as was the performance. I know little to nothing about ballet but I knew this was something abstract, contemporary and on edge. I was amazed at how they moved, not just in dancing terms but their presence on stage, the way they moved together, their power and poise, and how they were almost silent (I was sitting close enough to hear/not hear them). As a football/sports nerd, when talking about tactics or something special that happened in a game you'll often discuss a player’s movement, how movements make things happen. I kept thinking about the comparisons. I had just that day watched a video of this year’s NBA MVP Stephen Curry, and there were so many similarities between what I was seeing on stage and what he has done to earn that MVP. Pace, agility, skill…

I was encouraged to try and view this show from a design perspective, being a designer and all. Though all I could think about was how little design there was, how the show was all about the dancers, there were no costumes (simple shorts and leotards), there were no stage sets or wild props. Good design is often unnoticed, if it serves its function perfectly. Here, the function was to fully focus on those involved and immerse yourself in it. 

Less is More.