It may seem odd, in the presence of a flock of damn-near perfect bodies sweeping elegantly past me in a state of semi-undress that the question that popped into my head was "where is all this leading?" But I left Emanuel Gat and Awir Leon's Sunny this evening in a slight befuddlement, that question remaining - for me at least - unanswered.
The slow and delicate overture sees a character - simultaneously Pueblo clown and hesitant cockerel - magically transform the empty stage into a dance floor.
This powerful and complex image introduces another presence upstage, the cast, for a moment gentle, almost diffident. Clad in underwear, their muted colours seem like stock images. There is a stripping away of the kind of resonance of the opening, a confrontation with the rootless, wordless body, the one that we all occupy, a dialogue with the other bodies around us.
So far so good ... it's a beautiful thing to watch these performers flood the stage, and see the games they play with the surfaces they share and the space they occupy. There are couples and alliances, hieroglyphic ballets, there are urban groups, patterned flocks flow through and shear off from each other. To paraphrase the quote about architecture, this is the masterly, correct, and magnificent play of bodies brought together in light.
But there is a moment when that voice comes back to me and that question gets asked ... where is this going? I become self-conscious, and I am aware that I need a handle on this. Not in order to share the evident joy of the piece, not for the occasionally stellar dance, but for the game, the complexity, the unfolding, the arc of the piece. The cause. It's leaving me behind a little.
There are hints here and there that perhaps the aesthetic physicality which so dominates this work is not the whole story. The song which is the focus of this piece itself is, yes, unambiguously joyful. But famously it was written the day after the assassination of President Kennedy, AND the murder of the songwriter's beloved brother - on the same day. So there's big, poignant resonance deep in the structure of Sunny. This is some kind of emotional defiance, some fuck-you to a desperate condition. But I can't uncover it, if it's there, and I find that I need to. I wish there had been one or two more hooks for me to hang onto. Or one or two fewer. There are moments of sharing - almost - as for example when two dancers gently approach each other through a throng downstage. But just in time they think better of it and return explosively, if frustratingly, to the party. The music, written and performed on stage by Awir Leon, is described as a concert, and its slick upbeat urban aesthetic works well in that context. But again, there is a moment - the strong voices of the cast being swamped by a tidal wave of music - where I get the feeling that some unstated but specific horror is engulfing these innocents, and that somehow it's better to look away. There is a moment too, towards the end, where the characters snap through their movements, as if they are replayed through a faulty projector, again suggesting a disconnect, a tragedy, a sad memory of a party. These images are not inadvertent. But should we not just assume, a priori, that art is imbued with this awareness of humanity's imperfect tendency to disaster, and just get on with the fun of the leg bone being connected to the thigh bone stuff? Just because? Rather than consistently implying some vague but terrible cloud lurking in the background, and not dealing with it in the piece? Surely this is the lesson in the song at the heart of the piece?
Ultimately, Sunny is about the joyful engagement of bodies, the heavenly and the human, and on that level it is a strong creative achievement. And the audience did go absolutely mad for it, so I'm admittedly in a very small minority here. But that's my two cents. I am feeling a lot better about Sunny now I've spent the evening thinking about it. And I would definitely see it again, they do move VERY beautifully...
Bryan for DRAFF
Sunny, choreographed by Emanuel Gat, runs at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, as part of the Dublin Dance Festival until 23rd May.
Posted: 23rd May 2017