Dido and Aeneas

The centrepiece of this years Sydney Festival is like a complex meal which you have to digest to appreciate – and even then you may still be wondering what you just ate. German choreographer Sasha Waltz fuses Henry Purcell’s opera, some extraordinary contemporary dance and the music of the Akademie fuer Alte Musik Berlin to create an epic spectacle. The story is a bit hard to follow if you haven’t done your prereading. Dido, the Queen of Carthage is keen on the Trojan hero Aeneas but not sure if he likes her back. The couple go out hunting and the local witches decide to intervene and suggest to Aeneas to head to Italy and move on from Dido. Like many of his modern day counterparts, Aeneas is a committment phobe and listens to the Sorceress. He ditches Dido, who is not unexpectedly pretty disappointed about this short term relationship which ends in her lament. Not a difficult plot, but in this production, you will be struggling to figure out that narrative so grab the free program on your chair and read the synopsis. However there are many beautiful moments in this work especially the opening prologue being the incredible underwater ballet sequence which runs for the first 20 minutes of the performance with lithe and billowy movements by diving dancers in a huge onstage water tank. There is a myriad of eye catching tableaux especially where the dancers lie on the ground and appear to be physically rippling across the stage. The final dance within a long tangled web of black hair that engulfs Dido is quite stunning. The collaboration with the Vocalconsort Berlin sees the singers double as dancers in a unified troupe of performers. The costumes (Christine Birkle) are ornate and opulent and Attilio Cremonesi’s musical direction featuring three lutes and a viola da gamba, is superb. But don’t be surprised if you take a while to figure out who is Dido and who is Aeneas- and their shadow doubles that pop in and out. Surtitles would have been very handy!

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