Black Velvet is an unforgettable Adelaide Festival experience exploring what it is to be deeply connected to another human being. Inspired by concepts and techniques used at Tel Aviv’s Batsheva Dance Company, USA’s Shamel Pitts and Brazil’s Mirelle Martins established their original piece, now premiering in Adelaide until March 2. This duo met while practising creator Ohad Naharin’s dance style, and then spawned the idea of discovering the fluid contours seen in the human body. What they created is intense to say the least. Naharin’s ‘Gaga’ is a contemporary and modernist dance style that portrays primal emotions through the language of physical movement. This innovative performance successfully demonstrates the unconventional Gaga style.
Possessing an unexpected duality of beauty and wickedness, this performance powerfully interweaves dance segments into a haunting slideshow of erratic and rigid movements. Through striking vignettes of birth, life and death cycles, the audience travel on a surreal journey that starts from when they walk into the dark theatre and are confronted with the lines of Martin’s body. She is draped in a thick and long black velvet skirt, slowly swaying to distant bell sounds as she hypnotises you in the faint darkness.
Both Martins’ and Pitts’ spellbinding stage presence enthralled us and I can verify that they became, as Pitts says himself, “two different aspects of the same person.” Their bodies ‘melted’ together, basically becoming extensions of one another and blurring the fact that they are two separate entities. They were superbly in sync, creating the most fascinating movements. Also choreographing the show, Pitts showed us that the body can be beautiful and inhuman. This was showcased through the lighting and video mapping work of Brazilian multimedia designer Lucca del Carlo.
Although Black Velvet was a successful celebration of the human form, it did admittedly have a few misses. While understanding that a simplistic set design is intended to expose the dancer’s fragility and unique bodies, it was still not striking enough to keep me intrigued for some excessively monotonous and stagnant segments. But fortunately, these low points did in fact create some visceral and sensory moments for me and other audience members. It is likely that you will find yourself forgetting to breathe as you grit your teeth when witnessing the jarring movements and hearing score that complements this anxiety inducing piece of art. Pitts and Martins should be commended for their artistic expression and magical energy they exuded through their animated and gentle bodies.
This show is for an audience who are extremely open-minded and thrive on exploring the underlying multi-layered messages that can be interpreted through this hour-long production. Black Velvet leaves many different marks on your memory and you will be discussing the whole performance well after it ends.
Adelaide Festival Review By Zara Zampaglione
Tickets and show information from Adelaide Festival.