by Catherine Blanch.

Celebrated choreographer Meryl Tankard and the Adelaide Festival Centre is presenting the Adelaide premier of her critically-acclaimed dance work, The Oracle, at the Dunstan Playhouse. Set to Stravinsky’s daring composition for the infamous ballet The Rite of Spring, this one-man sensual, vulnerable and muscularly intense performance features Paul White – one of Australia’s most acclaimed dancers.

The Clothesline speaks to Meryl Tankard via email.

After performing to critical acclaim in Europe, the UK and USA, it’s great to see that The Oracle is coming to Adelaide. How did you and Paul White come to be working together on this show? Have you worked together before in any dance or artistic collaboration?

“Paul and I had not previously worked together before The Oracle. I had a small grant from Critical Path to work in a studio for three weeks with Paul, Regis Lansac and one other dancer. I was very inspired by the paintings of Odd Nerdrum (a contemporary Scandinavian painter). I had seen his work when we were working in Gothenburg and I wanted to see what could come out of exploring his universe. Actually Paul replaced a female dancer who, at the last minute, was not available for the workshop.”

Is it an easy or hard thing to collaborate in this way? Did you have a basic idea of what you want and elaborated together from that point?

“Yes I did have a clear idea of working with the Odd Nerdrum images. I directed Paul and he was very eager and open to be challenged in this way. It was a very enjoyable and creative way to work. We had three weeks of experimenting in a studio with no deadlines or marketing pressure. It was the first time in my life that I have been able to work like that i.e. not having someone from the marketing department asking me everyday  ‘what is the piece about….we need an image and the copy now!’

“I had the opportunity to be free, to experiment, to research and to let my instincts guide me. Regis, who I have lived and worked together since 1984, filmed us and then worked with his footage on the computer at the end of each day. During these sessions with Regis I tried playing The Rite of Spring over one of the dances and the track I chose fit absolutely perfectly with the movements. It was as if the music imposed itself on me.

“It was from that moment that I began to think …could it be possible to make this work for just one dancer and could this dancer be male? (The original Rite of Spring was created for a female)”

Along with Stravinsky’s music, how were concept and the story of The Oracle created?

“It was a very organic process. We had a small budget and I had found costumes in the space (University of NSW) where we were working from previous theatre productions. I chose 4 pieces; a beautiful aubergine coloured velvet cloak, an exquisite hand stitched mediaeval bonnet, a fur stole and a pair of old bonds underpants! Using only these items in rehearsal with Paul, and Regis’s projections, we began the process.

“The story is in this powerful score and I simply obeyed it!”

Is the storyline such that audience members, even those new to dance performances, will be able to understand or discover?

“Yes sure. I actually followed the story of The Rite of Spring quite diligently. I interpreted the scenes written in the music in my way with Paul playing ‘all the characters’. For example: Paul uses this long velvet cloak to ‘become’ different Spring maidens, i.e. changing his hair style. At times he becomes a priest, a sage, an observer, the oracle etc until, in the end, he is the victim…the chosen one…the sacrifice, who must dance till he dies.”

Stravinsky’s composition for The Rite of Spring caused riots at its Paris premiere in 1913. Why?

“The music was not romantic or pretty or pleasant. It rips out your guts with its clashing discordant rhythms, its harsh conflicting sounds. Nijinsky’s choreography was very earthed and pagan. There were no pointed feet or tutus, or fairies or pretty lines.”

Was the violence and sensuality of the dance too forward for its time?

“Yes definitely, but this choreography has inspired, and continues to inspire choreographers today.”

With so many emotions in one show, why was this chosen to be a one-person show over two or more performers?

“I guess the same reason why only person is chosen to be sacrificed in a ritual (not two or three?)”

While exploring the conflicting forces of nature and man, masculinity and femininity, violence and nurturing, infusing the work with strength and vulnerability, how vital is the combination of dance and video footage been to portray these messages?

“Everything grew organically in the process. Regis is involved from the beginning of the creative process. The video and lighting are like performers on stage with Paul. They dance with him.”

Will White be performing to pre-recorded music or will there be a live orchestra accompanying him?

“It is pre recorded by London Philharmonic Orchestra with Kent Nagano conducting. I am not sure the Festival Centre could afford such a huge orchestra live on stage! Although last year on our USA tour we did perform it with full orchestra ‘live’ in Denver on USA. It was sensational.”

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

“The Oracle has toured to sell out houses in France, USA, Switzerland, Germany and London and I am very happy to be coming back to Adelaide again after 15 years!!”

The Oracle performs at Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, from 8pm on Wed Aug 20 until Sat Aug 23.

Book at BASS on 131 246 or

Photographic image courtesy of Regis Lansac.


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