Crawling spiders, floating pine needles and dancing opera singers: ‘Matsukaze’ by Sasha Waltz

One scene that stands out. Sometimes that’s enough. Just that one image will make sure that a performance will not get lost amidst all the others in your mind. It’s been a few weeks since I’ve seen Matsukaze at De Munt/La Monnaie and I still see those gigantic needles slowly and almost gracefully falling down on that stage. The reason why I absolutely wanted to see this new opera by Japanese composer Toshio Hosokawa? Hanjo, his previous one, was directed by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker. This time around German choreographer Sasha Waltz was called in.

Sometimes an opera can be too big a framework to fill (for a director). That’s what I remember thinking, upon leaving De Munt/La Monnaie, that evening. Matsukaze, based on an old  play, is a slow affair, with a story that hasn’t too much to offer, really. Two sisters (Matsukaze and Murasame) so madly in love with the same man (who has left them) that their souls continue to lust after him when they’re dead, a pine tree with their names caved in, and a monk wondering what’s going on.
And that is something you feel, while watching it. On too many occasions you sense that Sasha Waltz really had to give it her best shot, to fill the time (and the space) she has to fill. Sure, the choreographies she comes up with are beautiful to watch, and she really tries to do this poëtic story justice, but nevertheless. It’s great to see that gigantic black woolen net, with those singers climbing in it like spiders (Waltz conceived it with Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota as a symbol for ‘non-reality’: the world of the ghosts), but doesn’t that scene take a bit too long, really?

I’ve read quite some reviews by people who were absolutely spellbound by this meditative ‘choreographic opera’, but all in all I wasn’t completely taken away by it. One thing you have to admire though is that Waltz has succeeded in giving the two sisters (singers Charlotte Hellekant and Barbara Hannigan) a crash course in contemporary dance. You’d think that you would be able to immediately spot the woodenly moving opera singers amidst that group of dancers, but they blend in admirably. And they have to, as their dance at the end is one of the key elements in the story: it’s their moment of redemption, their catharsis.

But yes, those pine needles. Somewhere near the end, they start to fall on that open construction in wood (by Pia Maier Schriever). They’re huge, but nevertheless they fall slowly and gracefully, on the dancers and singers on stage. Just beautiful.

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