Dance Salad

April 10, 2009

Dance Salad
Wortham Center,

Cullen Theater
Houston, TX

April 10–12, 2009

Reviewed by Wendy Perron


A ravishing duet: Carolyn Carlson’s
Signes: L’Esprit du blue, with Marie-Agnès Gillot and Kader Belarbi. Photo by Amitava Sarkar. 


More of a feast than a salad, this annual festival packs in companies from Europe that we rarely see in the U.S. This year brought artists from ten European companies and one from China. Revered choreographers Mats Ek, Hans Van Manen, William Forsythe, and Carolyn Carlson, were well represented, as were younger artists like Jorma Elo, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Hofesh Schechter, Jirí Bubenícek, and David Dawson.

Given how deprived we are of Mats Ek’s work here in the U.S., the biggest treat was to see three of his short works. In the poignant Memory, Ek and the impetuous Ana Laguna enact, through odd and well-timed gesture, an unsentimental relationship. In O Solo Mio, a solo for Laguna to a recording of an equally grand performer, Luciano Pavaratti, she’s like a Pippi Longstocking all grown up—or never gonna grow up—falling in splats and shaking like a duck shakes off water. Apartment, another relationship duet—this time for a younger couple from Royal Swedish Ballet (Jeannette Diaz-Barboza and Andrey Leonovitch)—is brought on by a knock at a mysterious freestanding door. Ek’s choreography integrates gesture in a way no one else does and can leave you with tears and smiles in the same moment. (As a guest invited to speak on a pre-festival panel with Ek, I got to see short clips of his previous work on film that were equally stirring.)

Van Manen’s Trois Gnossiennes, a pristine vision of Satie’s famously melancholy piano piece, was danced by English National Ballet’s Adela Ramirez and James Fobat, with live pianist Kevin Darvas. A sense of winsomeness and exquisite simplicity permeates this ballet, which is graced with gentle surprises like Forbat lifting Ramirez with flexed feet parallel to the floor.

Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Marie-Agnès Gillot danced ravishingly in two duets. Rencontre, choreographed and performed with Jirí Bubenícek, showed off their shared elegance and her sumptuousness. She in long white gown, and he in black suit with bare chest, both seemed veiled by a sense of impending loss. Even better was Carolyn Carlson’s Signes: L’Esprit du blue. As Gillot, this time with Kader Belarbi, moved from a single caress to sustained ecstasy, she floated, expanded, and grew radiant before our eyes.

Another amazing piece was Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s From Origine and Myth. His six performers had an enchanting lightness. Their mime-like precision of gesture made for a colorful set of characters. The most fascinating sequence was when languid Daisy Phillips allowed Kazutomi Kozuki to transform himself into objects of her leisure—a mirror, a phone, a fur coat, an apple, a cigarette lighter, high heels, and shower head—all performed to medieval music played and sung by the Italian group Ensemble Micrologus. Kinda beautiful and kinda disturbing.

Completely different was Jorma Elo’s witty, high-energy Lost on SLOW, danced by the Royal Danish Ballet (reviewed in June, 2008). With jutting tutus and smoky lighting, it has eccentric hand-to-mouth motions and a gorgeous slow section.

Hofesh Schechter, the Israeli choreographer who is making a splash in London, contributed Uprising, his tribal male rite, here performed by the Norwegian group Carte Blanche. The seven men captured the animal quality (scooting across the stage in low ape-like swings) and adolescent diffidence (standing around looking menacing or having a slap fest). But some moves lacked the original urgency, for instance the recurring lurching run with arms pinned behind. Schechter’s own dancers tore around the space with that lurch, somehow meshing despair and freedom. The Carte Blanche group was just a notch less intense.

British choreographer David Dawson’s pas de deux On the Nature of Daylight, for Dresden Semper Oper ballet, is a continuous subdued rapture with lifts that changed shape in the air, in which Raphael Coumes-Marquet was especially pliant. Dresden’s other fare was the classic Forsythe piece Steptext, with its abruptness, wild partnering, and razor-sharp cutoffs of the Bach music. Natalia Sologub was the woman soloist who gets almost torn in two.

From China came Zing Liang with his spiraling solo Existence. Arvo Pärt’s score, alternating sustained notes with silences, set the mood while occasional black-outs allowed us to see a ghosting image of Liang. The flies flew up at the end, making his existence seem even lonelier.

Disappointing were Dawson’s group work, A Million Kisses to My Skin, whose nice swooping duets were sandwiched between conventional first and last sections; Kenneth Kvarnstrom’s slightly zombie-ish duet OreloB for Goteborgs Operans Ballet from Sweden; and Forsythe’s new solo for Noah Gelber, which was little more than an exposition of how he takes classical ballet and destabilizes it.

Nevertheless, this three-day festival opened the floodgates for maverick work from across the pond. After two evenings of this rich diet, you felt like you’d tasted a smorgasbord of some of the most original voices in dance today.