The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile -

THREE weeks after fly­ing into Syd­ney to or­ches­trate one of his com­plex, elab­o­rate dance works, An­do­nis Fo­ni­adakis watches silently as the fruits of his labour un­fold. In a stu­dio at Syd­ney Dance Company, a ball of dancers rolls to­gether and then splits apart, dis­pers­ing to all points of the room be­fore bod­ies swirl to­gether, once again, to form Rorschach-pat­tern tableaus. It’s visual polyphony in ac­tion, the eye be­ing pur­posely snagged and then dragged all over the room as heads and limbs hook and in­ter­weave sin­u­ously in end­less vari­a­tions of the pas de deux against a pound­ing sound­track by French com­poser Julien Tar­ride, who is sit­ting nearby. He’s a fig­ure of owlish seren­ity, in con­trast to the in­tense Fo­ni­adakis, who whis­pers to the note-tak­ing as­sis­tant at his feet.

Ear­lier in the year, SDC artis­tic di­rec­tor Rafael Bonachela said of the ver­sa­tile, in-de­mand free­lance chore­og­ra­pher Fo­ni­adakis: “I saw his work and I thought, wow. It is full of en­ergy, power, am­bi­tion, it’s crazy — sheer beauty and re­ally in­tense. I’ve never seen any­thing so wild.”

This is a chore­og­ra­pher who does ev­ery­thing at full throt­tle, it seems. He runs his own project-based company while jug­gling in­ter­na­tional com­mis­sions in Europe, the US and now Aus­tralia; the sense of an ever-present tick­ing clock seeps into the cu­ri­ously pre­cise way he has of quan­ti­fy­ing his work out­put in units of time (the Martha Gra­ham Dance Company dancers took sev­eral weeks to learn 17 min­utes of chore­og­ra­phy, he says; the SDC dancers have been learn­ing much faster — about 30 min­utes in three weeks: “very fast, very solid”). Dur­ing lunch break he charges down a cor­ri­dor so fast that Re­view has to run to keep up, fir­ing off in­struc­tions in French to an off­sider, check­ing me­dia sched­ules and con­sult­ing with another mem­ber of his small en­tourage (which, un­til yes­ter­day, in­cluded de­signer Tas­sos Sofro­niou, in Syd­ney on a 48-hour visit) be­fore fi­nally fold­ing his lanky, elas­tic frame on to a chair in a tiny of­fice and stop­ping to col­lect his thoughts — and catch his breath — for what seems like the first time dur­ing a fre­netic stretch of eight-hour days in the stu­dio.

In the flesh, the Greek chore­og­ra­pher, 43, is a coiled spring. Time is for­ever tight: he’s been cre­at­ing at break­neck speed ever since his chore­o­graphic star took full flight about four years ago on the back of a string of well-re­ceived works for blue-chip dance com­pa­nies across the world: the darkly ag­gres­sive Kos­mos for Les Bal­lets Jazz de Mon­treal, the beau­ti­ful, swirling Echo for the Martha Gra­ham company, the ex­plo­sive Hori­zons for Cedar Lake Con­tem­po­rary Bal­let, and the el­e­gant Glory for Bal­let du Grand The­atre de Gen­eve, set to Han­del ex­cerpts and restaged at New York’s Joyce The­atre this year.

Along the way, there’s been an out-there Rite of Spring, com­plete with black loin cloths, Gstrings and kneepads, the quirky Wis­te­ria Maiden, fea­tur­ing kabuki masks, fans, white wigs and fight­ing sticks, and chore­o­graphic pieces for three op­eras (in­clud­ing for the premiere of a pro­duc­tion of Rameau’s Cas­tor et Pol­lux at the The­atres des Champs El­y­sees this month). Last year he took on the role of move­ment co-or­di­na­tor for his first big-bud­get Hol­ly­wood film, Dar­ren Aronof­sky’s bib­li­cal epic Noah. He runs thin hands through a rum­pled quiff of dark hair. “Yes, it’s been a big few years.”

This month he will make his SDC de­but with his new work Paren­the­sis as part of the company’s Louder than Words sea­son. As with so much of his chore­og­ra­phy — The New York Times’ dance critic Gia Kourlas notes that he likes to “keep his pul­sat­ing stage fran­tic and dense” — it fea­tures a trade­mark height­ened busy­ness. It’s all re­lent­lessly pro­pelled by Tar­ride’s gut­tural hy­brid score (which takes in ev­ery­thing from gritty, puls­ing elec­tron­ica to bird­song and rain­for­est sounds in a stream of what Tar­ride de­scribes as “psy­choa­cous­tic” ref­er­ences: “ev­ery sound has in it­self a pure visual ref­er­ence that we can’t avoid”).

Fo­ni­adakis de­scribes the work as an ex­plo­ration of du­al­ity in in­ti­mate re­la­tion­ships, or­der and disorder: to il­lus­trate this chore­o­graph­i­cally, he says, he be­gan with a study of the pas de deux be­fore break­ing it down into frag­ments.

SDC dancer Charmene Yap, among oth­ers, is flung like a rub­ber doll be­tween a clus­ter of men: Fo­ni­adakis says his aim was to “make a kind of ex­tended di­ver­sion of how a duet can be­come mul­ti­plied and de­con­structed and dis­persed into many dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties, so when Charmene gets ma­nip­u­lated by five guys, it looks like it’s just one guy. This work is about tear­ing apart the idea of one, so that one be­comes many.”

Mu­sic is a key part of his cre­ative process: he pays trib­ute to Tar­ride, with whom he has worked since 2003. For this work, crafted to a tight dead­line, he out­lined his ideas to Tar­ride and told him to come up with a score; Tar­ride de­liv­ered “chunks” of mu­sic, which Fo­ni­adakis then set to move­ment. It’s an in­trigu­ingly mod­u­lar cre­ative process, but “I didn’t move things around be­cause I re­spected his way of trav­el­ling through my story”. He pays trib­ute, too, to another long-term col­lab­o­ra­tor, Sofro­niou, for the in­tri­cately struc­tured cos­tumes — tight bodices and flow­ing, pleated skirts in navies, neu­trals and the odd turquoise flash.

Hail­ing from the small city of Ier­ape­tra, Greece, Fo­ni­adakis trained at the State Dance School of Athens be­fore re­ceiv­ing a Maria Cal­las Schol­ar­ship and em­bark­ing on fur­ther train­ing at Ecole Ru­dra-Be­jart Lau­sanne in Switzer­land. In his dance ca­reer, he has per­formed with the Be­jart Bal­let Lau­sanne, Lyon Opera Bal­let and Saburo Teshi­gawara/KARAS company, in works by Mats Ek, Na­cho Du­ato, Jiri Kylian, Bill T. Jones and oth­ers. In 2003 he formed his own company, Apo­to­soma, and in 2004 he pre­miered his first big piece, Selon De­sir, with Geneva Bal­let. He pays heart­felt trib­ute to the cen­tury-old Swiss company and its di­rec­tor Philippe Co­hen who, he says, saw a pre­vi­ous small work he did at Lyon Opera Bal­let while still a dancer, and “saw the skele­ton of a chore­og­ra­pher”. He went on to make four works for the Geneva company, which he cred­its for giv­ing him his start

Fo­ni­adakis has en­joyed his for­ays into opera and film — work­ing with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy for two months with Aronof­sky and the Noah tech­ni­cal team to craft a se­quence in­volv­ing the an­i­ma­tion of “half mon­ster, half hu­man” crea­tures was “in­cred­i­ble … I was like a child in Dis­ney­land”. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, th­ese projects lack cre­ative depth, he says, be­cause the vi­sion of the chore­og­ra­pher takes a back seat to that of the di­rec­tor. So his cre­ative sym­pa­thies re­main fully en­gaged in craft­ing work for the stage.

He re­mains awed by his re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with the “gen­er­ous, com­mit­ted” dancers of the sto­ried Martha Gra­ham Dance Company on Echo, which de­buted this year: “That was amaz­ing. I couldn’t be­lieve when I got the invitation be­cause it was like, oh my God, Martha Gra­ham is his­toric in the dance com­mu­nity.” It doesn’t stop him, how­ever, from be­ing can­did about “the prac­ti­cal re­al­ity of work­ing with a company with lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence of work­ing with any­thing else other than the Martha Gra­ham style. I man­aged to make 17 min­utes in two weeks, and a big part of it was not just cre­at­ing but coach­ing, teach­ing them the prin­ci­ples of the move­ment, which took a lot of time.”

Another mem­o­rable high-pro­file ex­pe­ri­ence came in work­ing with Cedar Lake last year on Hori­zons. “It’s a to­tally dif­fer­ent re­al­ity, it’s a rep company that has ex­pe­ri­ence with world­wide chore­og­ra­phers, dif­fer­ent styles, they are very smart, very strong.” Hori­zons, he says, “kind of so­lid­i­fied and se­cured my [rep­u­ta­tion], gave me, I don’t know, a larger vis­i­bil­ity in­ter­na­tion­ally”.

Talk shifts to wider is­sues in dance: how does he re­spond to the crit­i­cism that dance — com­pared with, say, the­atre — is too ab­stract and solip­sis­tic, fail­ing gen­er­ally to ad­dress press­ing po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues of the day? While there are ex­cep­tions — wit­ness Bill Forsythe’s sem­i­nal anti-war piece Three At­mo­spheric Stud­ies — this is pre­dom­i­nantly a gen­er­a­tion of dancemak­ers who dis­avow be­ing cit­i­zen-artists, who pre­fer to keep ide­ol­ogy off the stage; Mikhail Barysh­nikov once said that “artis­tic dis­sent is a beau­ti­ful lake with very thin ice”, re­fer­ring to the dearth of en­dur­ing po­lit­i­cally fo­cused dance works.

Fo­ni­adakis be­lieves pol­i­tics in dance can be too cre­atively nar­row­ing. Far bet­ter, he says, to fo­cus on time­less univer­sal hu­man states — love or loss or death — than on specifics.

“It’s a very del­i­cate mat­ter, but my po­si­tion is not to form or change po­lit­i­cal views or make com­ment,” he says. “I am very much more con­cerned about the hu­man it­self, about who we are and what our ori­gins, and hopes and fears are. You know, I’m Greek, and right now my coun­try is run­ning into a na­tional dis­as­ter, it is a po­lit­i­cal sub­ject, and yes, I could have cho­sen to make a state­ment out of it. But once you have cho­sen to go this way, your work be­comes some­how con­di­tioned to such spe­cific sub­jects. And when the po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion changes, it stays the same, like a pho­to­graph.”

Chore­og­ra­pher An­do­nis

Fo­ni­adakis; in re­hearsals with Syd­ney

Dance Company, top

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