Léna Megyeri @ 2018 november
New energies and inspirations are important in every company’s life, but especially for companies that have been defined by one very characteristic choreographer from the start. Compagnie Pal Frenak is one of them; therefore it was exciting to hear that this season he is planning to support young talents in different ways. The first new production of their season, W_all, was supposed to be choreographed by its performers and mentored by the company leader, but the result lacks the versatility that the choice of dancers with very different backgrounds suggests – and shows up every (overused) cliché of the classic Frenák pieces instead.
Apart from the company’s own members, there are dancers from Ireland, Portugal, and the USA, as well as from M Studio of Transylvania, one performer in a wheelchair and one deaf artist. The range of inspirations and references are equally wide: from Philippe Lioret’s movie, Welcome, about an immigrant boy who tries to swim through the English Canal to be with his love to Saint-Saëns’ The Dying Swan. And then, according to the creators, we should also think about the famous walls of history: the Berlin Wall, Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall of China. But does the performance give us pause for thought?
On stage, there is a kind of a wall, certainly: it is built from huge gym-class mattresses, some of which are sometimes torn down to be used as, well, gym-class mattresses. These are the spots for the acrobatic and fight-like duets and group dances that we know so well from Frenák. As the tricky title suggests, most walls have gaps or breaches that sometimes open to entirely different worlds. W_all is a peak through these (figurative and literal) breaches to a world full of unusual characters: a boy swimming through the air, a man dancing in red leotard and pointe shoes, a lip-synching female trio with a deaf girl in the centre, an amputee floating in the air and slow-dancing with a woman despite having no legs. But Frenák has always been drawn to interesting and curious characters and has worked with them throughout his career, so when he says he wants to show up the beauty of being different, it feels a bit old. And without truly reflecting on all these differences, W_all fails to be more than just a little shop of curiosities.
Frenák definitely turned out to be more than just a mentor for his dancers during the creation, since everything from the scenery (gigantic objects that define the stage) to the costumes (knee pads, underwear, black suit jackets) and to the choreography strongly mirrors him, rather than his colorful little group of performers. True, sometimes we see the individual shine through; but in the age that celebrates individuality more than anything, W_all still feels like a missed opportunity.