When Is a Wedding Day Like Doomsday?

September 24, 2009

When you’re watching Stijn Celis’
you can’t imagine anything else happening to that cataclysmic, choral music. But of course there have been two great versions before: Nijinska’s (1923) and Robbins’(1965). (Both those versions are called Les Noces, where as this one, made for
Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, is simply Noces.) Performed at Fall for Dance last night and tonight, this interpretation is more aggressive, more savage, more clearly a combat zone between the men and the women. It’s full of hints at sexuality, but in the end, the women seem like sacrifices.

At times it refers to Nijinska’s original, like the long braid-like attachm
to the
’s skullcaps. And once, a man pulls a comb from his pocket and combs his own
ir in a modern version of the maidens combing the long tresses of the Bride’s hair in Nijinska’s
Les Noces.

I love the women’s costumes—white raggedy tutus, all differently disheve
led, as though the young women had already been ravished. And I love their sassiness. They stomp side to side, hips swinging. “This is my sexual body, and I’m gonna hold onto it,” they seem to be saying.

The men, in whiteface and dark suits, are forever moving four long benches around th
e space. They are often curved over, with a primal force to their movements. They don’t seem to want this marriage any more than the women. At times it’s just one couple facing each other—being forced to face each other—but really all 12 couples are getting together, kicking and screaming, as it were.

For all the drama and formality, sometimes there’s a certain casualness. After a crescendo of music, instead of all the dancers being still, a couple of them amble away from the group. And sometimes there’s a cartoon running movement. Almost funny but you never laugh.

What makes this memorable is the excellent choreography. The performers are fine, but the group of 24 is such a forceful mass of two genders that you don’t pick out individual performers. It’s the moment-to-moment interest of what the guys do, and how they slip through a line of women, and what the women do, how they express their resistance.

What makes the piece modern is the gutsiness of the women. They are equal to the men in every way. But at the end, when church bells ring in Stravinsky’s powerful score, each man slowly takes a woman—carrries her, lifts her, or drags her—across the floor and she floats like a rag doll in his arms. She’s put up such a good fight, and now…she’s just gonna be a housewife. Those church bells begin to sound like the bells of doomsday.



 Photo by Serguei Endinian, Courtesy Fall for Dance