Robyn Orlin doesn’t keep her web or Wiki pages up to date. She is a South African choreographer living in France. From time to time she brings her work back to South Africa where it plays to packed houses, often at The Market Theatre.
In December 2016 we were treated to another of her works on the John Kani stage at The Market Theatre, sponsored by the French Institut (IFAS) – In a world full of butterflies it takes balls to be a caterpillar … some thoughts on falling. Her title s are nearly always long. In a world where the instruction is to keep the title short, pithy and memorable, Robyn Orlin breaks the rules. She does similar things with her choreography. Just as the long titles themselves become a challenge to master (so master them we do), so her work is always challenging.
This butterflies/caterpillar/falling work had two sections, one with Elisabeth Bakambamba Tambwe and several tents covering the first two rows of the auditorium. Some members of the audience had been directed to sit on the stage. The work started with the dancer chasing the audience off the stage because it was her space (always a valuable lesson). They had to move the tents from the first two rows of chairs and then sit there. It was absolutely delightful, I suppose, mainly to those who were not sitting on the stage. The whole tent thing and some very clever costuming dealt with the caterpillar image very effectively. Young performers who hear of a work with such a simple premise often fall into the trap of trying to reproduce something without sufficient meat to it. Of course, Robyn Orlin wouldn’t be a genius if she failed to have enough material to keep the audience entertained without veering off into tangental ideas despite using a variety of genres in both music and imagery – mythology, theology, opera, monologues and technology all feature. I was always intrigued, often amused, and thoroughly delighted.
The butterfly falling section of Orlins work uses, inter alia, the Icarus theme. I loved it, even as the story of Icarus itself has always fascinated me. Danced by Eric Languet, this section also used humour. It was the prettier of the two dance pieces in the same way that the butterfly is prettier than the caterpillar that preceded it. Orlin here makes use of a deconstruction of classical ballet, and Languet dons pointe shoes and a tutu for his turn at the barre. It adds to the “fear of falling” although classically trained male dancers have no trouble picking up the pointe technique – I suppose all dancers fear falling on stage (like all humans fear falling generally) and pointe shoes are apparently more challenging than they look. This wasn’t however, a parody of the female ballerina as the Trocaderos play it. It was a serious, if somewhat amusing, look at the fear of falling – and less directly, I suppose, a look at femininity through the paradoxical use of a male dancer.
Orlin often uses a camera with images projected and this piece used the same technique, together with a video clip of Eric Languet with caterpillars and butterflies painted on to his body. Once again there was plenty of material and I was sorry when the work drew to a close.
The audience, predictably, leapt up for the standing ovation we give so easily, deserved in this case. Robyn Orlin at her best. What’s not to love?