Scapino Ballet Rotterdam
Scapino Ballet Rotterdam
Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon
April 30, 2008
Reviewed by Heather Wisner
Portland’s spring forecast brought snow one week and 80-degree temperatures the next, so the debut of Scapino Ballet Rotterdam—dancing a program that veered stylistically between pastoral and violent—seemed well-timed.
There were hints of brutish nature in artistic director Ed Wubbe’s The Green. Set on a strip of artificial turf, to Bach’s choral work St. John’s Passion, the company’s men (half of them bare-chested) loped and slid across the green, slithered and scuttled close to the ground and flew through the air, propelled either by their own or external forces. Wubbe deftly alternated levels and tempos, punctuating airborne unisons and frenzied clusters of movement with moments of stillness. The work took all the available onstage real estate.
The same was true of company choreographer Marco Goecke’s Aeffi, a solo performed by Tadayoshi Kokeguchi. Though his use of Johnny Cash songs didn’t serve the choreography, Goecke capitalized on his space as well as his instrument, employing every possible angle and body part. Kokeguchi, facing upstage, rippled his back muscles between scissor kicks, backbends and breathless attitude balances in a mesmerizing performance.
Scapino’s greatest strength is its dancers, a skilled bunch who strike an impressive balance between technical precision and wild abandon. On this visit, however, the company looked like it could use an editor, someone who could help distill movement down to its most powerful essence. Wubbe’s The Brides, a variation on Stravinsky’s Russian peasant wedding-inspired Les Noces, was a whirling dervish of white skirts and hair-flinging for the company’s women, but despite the intensity of their performance, the thrill wore off as the piece, unvaryingly, wore on. And the show’s closer, Goecke’s The Rest is Silence, was simply an oddity, albeit a periodically interesting one. Danced in near-darkness, it drowned out Stephen Foster’s sweet, old-timey ballads with shouted exclamations and a brief onstage din emanating from enormous alpine horns. Dancers brushed butterflies from their skin and repeated a frequent (and by then, irritating) company movement motif, fluttering their fingers like winged creatures. As with the weather, one could only watch and wonder.
(Photo by Thomas Oliver, Courtesy White Bird)