June 26, 2009
The Ruth Page Center
for the Arts, Chicago
Reviewed By Lynn Colburn
Photo by Jennifer Girard, Courtesy Jill Chuckerman Communications. Sanasardo's Sleepless Night in the City.
Drama infused the tightly wound performances on this aptly titled program. But at times, the “drama” was forced and slipped into cliché. The five dances, by Dmitri Peskov and Paul Sanasardo, were at their best when dramatic tension emanated from the core of the movement—when impulse, shape, intention, and flow coalesced.
Peskov’s three-part premiere, Suite in the Old Style, began with “Pastoral,” a quest of broad, yearning extensions and unfulfilled need. Gesture intersected with musical accents at just the right moments in Alfred Schnittke’s score, defining Paul Christiano and Masha Balovlenkov’s poet/muse dialogue. Christiano’s pained expression set expectations for a dramatic climax that never materialized and became distracting in an otherwise intriguing duet. The second part, “Minuet,” set two couples in a lyrical interlude of idealized love, while in “Pantomime,” Christiano’s wringing hands and silently mouthed script expanded into pure dance and back again.
Raising the “dance drama” bar was Nijinsky, where Peskov capitalized on Christiano’s striking acrobatic skill. The character’s emotional disintegration rang true in jarring echoes of Petrouchka, where internal struggle manifests itself in the duality of puppet and puppeteer. Frenzied combinations of everyday gesture and abstract movement tapped this dancer’s technical and interpretive facility. Peskov’s raw choreographic imagination painted a riveting portrait against the legato beauty of Mozart.
Sanasardo, who recently returned to his native Chicago following a career in Tel Aviv and New York (where one of his dancers was a young Pina Bausch), premiered Sleepless Nights in the City, inspired by the paintings of Edward Hopper. A promising cast of “drifters” gave a guided tour for night owls, but they remained generalized in their travelogue of dalliance and desperation. Too often, drama originated in facial expression and physical intensity rather than choreographic form. The angst-heavy music of Webern, Varese, Adams, and Messiaen drove the dancers unrelentingly to escape their nightmares. Balovlenkov’s homeless woman (a harbinger of truth?), clutching and discarding her worldly belongings and fleeing air-raid sirens, and Peskov’s slimy black-leather-clad “Predator” on his bicycle (Death?) conveyed the theme of life’s futility and loneliness with surface theatricality.
Rounding out the program were Peskov’s duet, Good Night, with its early foreshadowing of ideas more fully developed in Suite, and his surrealistic Stray Dog, in which he appears from the audience to deliver his own poetry in Russian.