This project by Gautier Dance, the resident company at Theaterhaus Stuttgart, promised 17 brief films wrapped around the theme of The Dying Swan, each a solo made by a different choreographer. For some unknown reason, the penultimate film in the series has been deleted, thus introducing a surprise element of deconstruction in an absence that I found to be appealing; imagining what could have been on that film in the same way that one wonders what the dancers are doing when their performance continues unseen into the wings in Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy. The truth is probably something mundane but it is mischievous to imagine that this deleted 16th film was always part of an intriguing plan with which to tease the audience!

Garazi Perez Oloriz in Mauro Bigonzetti's la Cigna
© Jeanette Bak

Inevitably with 16 separate films, all in the region of three or four minutes’ duration, the outcome is mixed and relevance to The Dying Swan was often tenuous. The programme started strikingly with four strong works upfront: beginning with Mauro Bigonzetti’s captivating cup of la Cigna, featuring Gara Perez Oloriz teetering around a human-sized coffee beaker, filled with foam, into which she eventually falls and cavorts in the cappuccino froth. It was a simple idea, filmed from above to deliver stunning visuals. Eric Gautier’s Covid Cage is a superb summary of the psychological frustrations of a solitary pandemic lockdown leading to a young man’s touching reunion with his mother. Filmed by Rainhardt Albrecht-Herz, with impactful use of a drone, this three-minute burst was charismatically performed by Andrew Cummings.

Shawn Wu in Anita Hanke's Taleb's Theory
© Jeanette Bak

Taleb’s Theory by Anita Hanke is a pure dance film directed by Pirmin and Maik Styrnol with excellent black-and-white camerawork from Raphael Federer (yes, "Rafa" Federer)! A dark studio was graced by Shawn Wu’s slick movement to a cool jazz score by Marc Strobel that abruptly changed to edgier sounds as Wu’s eyebrows and back sprouted black down and he assumed twitchy avian movements in an apparent pastiche of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan. And then there was the stunning visual spectacle of Itzik Galili’s Emovere, focused on the swan’s birth, represented by Izabela Szylinska’s legs emerging upwards from a tutu with the accompanying squelching, crunching sounds of hatching incorporated into Sigal Goldsobel’s score. Albrecht-Herz has produced another stunning piece of video artistry, filmed so that only Szylinska’s legs are seen, firstly stretching – freshly hatched – into the air and then walking tentatively with swan-like pronounced relevés with the feint sounds of Saint-Saëns’ Le Cygne in the background. Only one of the works – Silent Swan by Kinsun Chan – made full use of the Saint-Saëns in its solo cello form (with someone off-screen humming loudly along to it).

Anneleen Dedroog in Andonis Foniadakis' AELLΩ
© Jeanette Bak

With one exception, the remaining films failed to match the strong start of this opening quartet, although several dance performances were strong: Shori Yamamoto’s al fresco dancing in Dominique Dumais’ Fallen Wings; the maniacal siren of Anneleen Dedroog in the smoky underworld of Andonis Foniadakis’ AelΩ; the subtle swan arms and pointe work of Nora Brown in Bridget Breiner’s Flatternd; a demonic swan in silver pants (Theophilus Veseléy) in Smadar Goshen’s Kamma; and Louisa Avraam’s carefree dancing on an industrial quayside in Nicki Liszta’s Oblong Blur.

Luca Pannacci in Kevin O'Day's We Were Many
© Jeanette Bak

In other films it was the flair of visual styling and camerawork that held sway, such as the all-white studio and chairs in Silent Swan; the quick-fire camerawork in Guillaume Hulot’s Swanny Side of Life; the dark combination of pianism and water in Edward Clug’s drops, in which Alessio Marchini performed in baggy y-fronts while standing in a bucket; and the sepia film of Luca Pannacci dancing in varying film speeds with several hats, in Kevin O’Day’s We Were Many.

Choreographers chose similar themes, designs or locations, such as concrete landscapes or structures (Fallen Wings, Swanny Side of Life, Oblong Blur and Off white); or bearded men in black swan eye makeup (Veseléy in Kamma and Mark Sampson in Oloris Oram, by Elisabeth Schilling). One irritating drawback was that each brief film was followed by a full set of identical rolling credits for the whole project.

Barbara Melo Freire in Virginie Brunelle's Off White
© Jeanette Bak

The best of the last batch was another black-and-white film, Off white by Virginie Brunelle, which included a third reference to Saint-Saëns music in a fragmented piano extract contained within Laurier Rajotte’s score for a journey in dance by Barbara Melo Freire, facing the camera (going backwards in one take), along a pedestrian walkway at night. In the final film, all tomorrow’s parties by Constanza Macras, Sidney Elizabeth Turtschi became a playful swan-like human dancing to an electronic score in a beautiful landscaped garden before stopping for a cigarette break by the fountain. It was an enigmatic end to the programme. I haven’t smoked for 30 years’ but I felt that I needed one, too!

These performances were reviewed from the Gauthier Dance video streams on YouTube