Without recourse to technological statements or politically-correct diatribes, Protagonist, created by the Dutch/Swedish choreographer Jefta van Dinther for Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, averts the shock tactics that audiences now expect from contemporary dance performances. Semi-dressed dancers on a semi-dressed stage: red, black; a frame at the back could be scaffolding or gymnastics bars (and are used as both). The piece relies on lighting to create atmosphere and effects, at one point turning a part of the stage into a dark pool into which dancers sink.
There are about a dozen in all. They form little clusters like bacteria in a petri dish, grouping and ungrouping in abortive movements of venture and recoil. Each has their own personal style yet reaches out, mimicking and echoing the others. Facial expressions are intrinsic in the piece: of adoration or envy, with appeals to the audience’s attention suggesting internal conversations physically expressed. One is raised up by the others and basks in the limelight, then abandoned on the scaffolding from where she stares down like a rueful monkey. And soon they’re all naked and swinging, or loping about like apes; self-conscious, though, not like real apes: “We are animals,” says van Dinther, “but we can never extract ourselves from our culture” – it’s hard-wired now.
Protagonist came across as an effective examination of contemporary interaction: our desire to be admired, to lead without responsibility. Without the distractions of tech, we can observe our pathetic preening; the glamour and grotesquery of our unsubtle society, which demands exposition yet encourages insularity, isolation and artificiality. The piece is also engaging, reassuring and uplifting, with lovely music by Davis Kiers and the singer ELIAS. While its self-conscious tumbles into hackneyed ideals (revolution among them) suggests our tired cycle of hope and disappointment, Protagonist ultimately evokes empathy for others and its origins in compassion towards ourselves.
9 – 10 Feb – Seville
14 – 15 Feb – Madrid
16 March – Sandnes
4 – 5 April – Lille
17 May – Breda