As a piece of collaborative work, Ashes is rather interesting: it’s a rare treat to see a small handful of opera singers and classical musicians in such an intimate setting, stripped bare of the grandeur and extravagance of something like the Royal Opera House.
Charmingly, they don’t just provide music; they are part of the dance itself: they move, they join in as a crowd, they walk around.
However, at times the music overshadowed a piece of contemporary dance that is, on the whole, a little inconsistent and confusing.
Sometimes it felt as though the dance was accompanying the music, rather than the other way round. It certainly didn’t help that there was hardly any dancing full stop in the first half.
There are some very good ideas within Ashes: the piece is partly inspired by a photograph of a landscape completely covered in ashes, and partly by the death of choreographer Koen Augustijnen’s father. At the beginning of the piece, the dancers brush themselves off, ashes flying everywhere to create beautiful silhouettes, like a phoenix emerging from the ashes of the old.
Ashes is also about mortality; the changes that occur in life, and how we cope with a concept that we ultimately have no control over. In many ways, Ashes is a manifestation of that taken to an even simpler level: of what it’s like to be alive. We see a flirtatious couple, the woman playing hot and cold with her partner; another couple are physically bound together by a pole: that certain something that is simultaneously keeping them together and pushing them apart.
The sequence that provoked the biggest laughs was a man who, in an act of childlike denial, runs across the (admittedly too distracting) set, messing with the musicians’ instruments along the way, before jumping off, cartoon-like, a trampoline that you didn’t even know existed before. But take away the slapstick and the bouncing exit and the silliness, it can be just you or me, unwilling to accept whatever that has happened, hiding behind a faade of smiles.
Or could Ashes also be about a disaster and its consequences? The feeling of hope in the aftermath of something pivotal? The struggle of life? All of these are hinted at. There’s open to interpretation, where each person takes his/her own meaning, and then there’s confusion and Ashes is sadly the latter. Ashes cannot make up its mind on what it wants to be, or what it wants to be about.