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Hofesh Shechter Company
White Bird Series • Portland, OR • October 21, 2009 • Reviewed by Heather Wisner
Group dynamics took center stage when this London-based contemporary company made its Portland debut—just one of two U.S. stops before heading on to Canada and Australia.
The two-piece program opened with a jolt of testosterone from Uprising, with choreography and score by Shechter. An ensemble work for seven men, Uprising captures different types of male interaction. The stage is dark and mostly bare, save for a bank of bright lights hung midway down the back wall and along each wing. Industrial clanking, layered with electronica and occasionally jazzy percussion, sets the tone as the men, each in khakis and a brightly colored T-shirt, emerge and stride downstage in a horizontal line, holding a passé position before breaking into smaller groups.
From there, the piece becomes less overtly dance-y but no less interesting. Movement flies across the stage: There is crab-walking, wild leaping, and a doubled-over shambling run, like a dog. A nightclubbish kick-ball-change becomes a bit of hip hop bounce, followed by football scrimmaging. When the light shifts from dark to bright, the men’s splayed limbs and clawed hands are etched into silhouette. Fog hisses out from the wings, evoking a steam bath; when the lights shut off again, the fog drifts across the darkness like clouds. The big laugh of the night followed a circle of men first backslapping, then face-slapping, then all-out brawling.
Some of these encounters are hostile, others congenial, and a few furtively suggestive. The same is not quite true of the show’s second half, In your rooms, which is set to live percussion and strings. Here, even more than in Uprising, it seems worth noting Shechter’s personal life: A reluctant conscript of his native Israel’s mandatory military service, he is now an ex-pat directing a multicultural company in London. In Your Rooms is about a group of people who act together but rarely interact with each other—or with us, for that matter.
There is ritualistic movement (not unlike what we have seen from Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva Dance Company, with whom Shechter once danced), performed in unison, deftly and with military precision. The dancers are often hunched over, busily scurrying around, their eyes cast down. This is broken by sudden entanglements and scuffles and agitated bobbing that could be prayer. The piece feels emotionally disconnected, but it illustrates plainly enough that togetherness and intimacy are two different things.
The Forsythe Company
Next Wave Festival • Brooklyn Academy of Music, NYC • October 7–10, 2009 • Reviewed by Wendy Perron
In Decreation, each performer finds a fertile center of madness within themselves. From the first moments, when Dana Caspersen yanks herself by the collar while reciting opposite sides of a conversation from poet Anne Carson’s “Decreation,” to the last, when Roberta Mosca sits atop a table while others lunge at her, the characters careen toward insanity or violence.
Forsythe’s movement is extraordinary from the first section. One dancer flops as though his body were part fish and part very precise spider. (This is not technically Forsythe’s movement, but comes from the dancer himself under Forsythe’s direction.)
Several planes of reality coexist: wayward dancers, a live video camera, a screen, a table, sinister or absurd conversations echoing back and forth, people in drastically different states of mind. The preverbal sounds that escape from dancers’ mouths, sometimes amplified, veer between fascinating and alarming.
There is just enough convergence of shape for the eye to take it all in. Uncanny timing has a lot to do with it, so that somehow, you are just this side of being overloaded. Frustrated, yes, but you cannot turn away.
Anne Carson’s text can deflate the intensity with humor, or it can goad the dancing into absurdity. “There is no hurt where there is belief,” repeated in different circumstances, can seem like a revelation or an accusation. Some lines sound like everyday caustic conversation: “It’s hard to tell when you’re joking, or when you’re just being obnoxious.” The sardonic can be funny: “I love your drama” and “It’s getting operatic.” Other lines cross over into sadism: “This is the deal: You give me everything and I give you nothing.” There are also mentions of “the soul,” but in this dance, the soul gets cornered, triggering wild, obsessive behavior.
A remarkable sequence begins when Georg Reischl appears, claiming, “I’m just here; I like my spiel.” Endearing in his freedom and innocence, hampered by another dancer playfully wrapping himself around Reischl, he is different from the other jaded characters. Eventually, though, Reischl’s joy is dimmed by constant self-questioning. He devolves into hating his own spiel and becomes more and more desperate and slithery. This goes on longer than expected, and our hearts go out to him.
At the end, the stage darkens and we see only a single figure on screen. It gets further and further away, as if to give us perspective on all we have witnessed, making the things that upset us or struck us as human very small.
Aszure & Artists
Mertz Theatre • Sarasota, FL • October 8–10, 2009 • Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
Busk. What a great title for Aszure Barton’s spanking new ensemble dance, a world premiere at the inaugural season of the five-day Ringling International Arts Festival in Sarasota, FL, co-presented by the Baryshnikov Arts Center and the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. I can just imagine the gifted Canadian choreographer mulling over this commission, licking her chops, thinking about all the things buskers—street performers—do to lure audiences and earn a little cash.
Wikipedia spells it out: acrobatics, animal tricks, balloon twisting, card tricks, clowning, comedy, contortions and escapes, dance, fire eating, fortune-telling, juggling, magic, mime and a mime variation where the artist performs as a living statue, musical performance, puppeteering, snake charming, storytelling or reciting poetry or prose as a bard, street art (sketching and painting, etc.), street theater, sword swallowing, or even a flea circus. And, let me tell you, that’s just the brilliant opening solo danced by Kyle Robinson, who looks like a young Brad Pitt.
The notion of entertainment to charm a distractable, fickle public—and of entertainment as survival strategy, with performers at the edge of desperation—seems right for our times and especially right for Barton. (It also links in, in its funny way, with the Ringling circus tradition.) Championed early in her career by Baryshnikov, Barton has made works that combine popular accessibility and melancholic darkness in equal measures. And she regularly treats her “pitch”—the busker’s territory—as a gallery for monumental kinetic art.
It is no different in this mysterious new abstract piece where, as is Barton’s way, costumes merely offer hints of narrative possibilities. Huddling dancers in dark hoodies, in one section, could signal everything from homeless street kids to a death-spooky group of monks, but no matter. We’re not meant to hold onto any identification long enough to pin it down.
Dancers’ bodies move like bold splashes of paint, match the slippery suppleness of clay, shimmer and resonate like stringed instruments, sing in overtones, and emote in a multitude of tongues. Today, many dance artists collaborate widely and consider their productions to be multidisciplinary. Barton—with an assist from her dancers, among the most magnetic and psychologically expressive performers onstage today—delivers the multidisciplinary, and multivalent, body.
A dancer’s long frame undulating, while one hand—adjoined to and splaying out from a hip—wriggles like a sea anemone, is at once human, not quite human, and a collective of humans, or perhaps a collage of human experience. Barton, who famously builds on each of her dancer’s individual strengths, also seems quite confident and happy deploying a large group across sizable space. It’s amusing to realize that she can sneakily multiply a group even further by turning each one into many. This busker gives plenty of value for your money.
Busk is set primarily to gypsy music by Lev ‘Ljova’ Zhurbin. Nicole Pearce’s hazy lighting provides good atmosphere. Costumes are by Michelle Jank and projected visuals by Kevin Freeman and Shannon DMOTE Peel. Besides the stunning Mr. Robinson, Barton’s laudable corps includes Jonathan Alsberry, Collin Baja, Charlaine Katsuyoshi, Andrew Murdock, Reed Luplau, Emily Oldak, Banning Roberts, and Cynthia Salgado.
Royal Danish Ballet
Old Stage, The Royal Danish Theatre • Copenhagen, Denmark • November 10–28, 2009 • Reviewed by Michael Crabb
How they cheered! And how relieved Nikolaj Hübbe must be!
The former New York City Ballet star, now in his second season as artistic director of the Royal Danish Ballet, knew he was taking a major risk in revising August Bournonville’s 1842, three-act masterwork Napoli, yet the result is little short of a triumph.
Bournonville has a special place in Denmark’s cultural pantheon. Tampering with a ballet as hallowed as Napoli is a perilous undertaking. Yet even the most diehard traditionalists must surely concede, albeit with a few scruples, that Hübbe, in association with former RDB star Sorella Englund, has succeeded in breathing new life into an almost too saccharine period piece.
Napoli is the story of Teresina and Gennaro, young lovers who must overcome parental objection, the interference of rivals, and the consequences of a life-threatening storm before they can be united.
Hübbe’s masterstroke is to set the ballet in the 1950s. He replaces Bournonville’s bourgeois picture-postcard prettiness with a grittier, raunchier image of garbage-strewn Neapolitan street life where everyone seems to be drunk, horny, or on the make.
Peppo and Giacomo, rival suitors for Teresina’s hand, become red-blooded rogues rather than the original’s clownish cartoon characters. Pascarillo, the itinerant balladeer, is now a down-and-dirty drag act.
Napoli’s supernatural Act II, in which Teresina washes up in Capri’s Blue Grotto and almost falls prey to the evil Golfo, has long been considered problematic. Bournonville’s choreography is effectively lost and the music dreary.
Hübbe and Englund start from scratch. The scene is now underwater—Teresina is lowered in on wires to simulate sinking—and, except when Gennaro arrives to save her, the choreography has a sinuously contemporary style. Even the Act II music is new. Louise Alenius Boserup’s commissioned score—in its filmic way sometimes reminiscent of Danny Elfman—effectively sets an eerie mood.
Act III, often staged alone as a dancing feast, is of course the great glory of Napoli. While Hübbe raises a laugh by having a leather-jacketed Gennaro arrive on a Vespa, he has wisely left things largely intact, even to the extent of having designer Maja Ravn put many of the dancers in traditional costume. As others have before, Hübbe has withdrawn Teresina and Gennaro from their little spots in the pas de six and given them their own Bournonville-style pas de deux. And, yes, there is still a bridge for the children to wave from.
The dancing throughout was marvelous in its infectious enthusiasm. Gitte Lindstrøm and Ulrik Birkkjær made ideal opening-night leads, their romantic ardor more than sufficient to warm a chilly Copenhagen night. Birkkjær was deservedly promoted to principal rank before a cheering crowd at the close. The second night, debuting American principal Amy Watson offered a slightly less headstrong Teresina than Lindstrøm’s but was convincing nevertheless. Her Gennaro, Alexander Stæger, also made a very impressive debut. It’s hard to imagine him remaining in the corps much longer.
Photo of Hofesh Schechter's Uprising by Chris Roesing, courtesy White Bird