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Flash Review 1, 1-25:
Same Old Story
Diamonds and Duds from NDT III
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2001 Rosa Mei
THE HAGUE, the Netherlands
-- Given the artistic skill and depth of the current dancers in
Netherlands Dance Theater III, what's disappointing about the "Vintage
Blossom" program, featured at the Lucent Danstheater last week,
is that apart from Paul Lightfoot's truly brilliant "Small Moves,"
the repertory is rather bland and gimmicky, not only shortchanging
the dancers' abilities but over-sentimentalizing the whole aging
process. Rather than staying true to the NDT III billing, "Top Performers
in Dance Theater," the repertory degenerates into maudlin reminiscences
of lost loves, cutesy gesticulation and corny use of props. Bring
on the chairs, hats and handkerchiefs for Aunt Stella and Uncle
Bob in the nursing home! It's not only unchallenging for the performers;
it's downright demeaning.
But let's start with
the good stuff. If your top ten list of favorite dance pieces of
all time includes any of the following -- Balanchine's "Episodes,"
Forsythe's "Artifact," Kylian's "Stomping Ground," or Tharp's "Fugue"
or "The Golden Section" -- you must scour the earth to see "Small
Moves." It is a gem of a piece, equal parts poetry and Dionysian
delight, with astounding complexity in phrasing and structure. Imagine
time-lapse photography of ivy tendrils unfolding, with organic syncopation
to the sound of Vivaldi's "Le Humane Passioni."
"Small Moves" meshes
abstract phrasing and mathematical complexity with earthy sensuality.
The dancers of NDT III, all strikingly nuanced performers, weave
together and undulate apart, making sailor's knots with their bodies
and then sloughing across the stage like communal mud creatures.
The elder of this community, played by Gerard LeMaitre, stands alone
naked with his back to the audience. You see the signs of aging
-- the stooped shoulders, the wrinkled skin, the slight sag of the
belly around the waist -- as well as wisdom. While others move frenetically
about, he waits patiently observing, the spider at the center of
a web. His gestures are less frantic, more human and weighted; his
meditation summons both calm and resolution.
The NDT III dancers,
all over 40, are as strong and exquisite as ever. Egon Madsen, formerly
with London's Royal Ballet, Sadler Wells and Frankfurt Ballet, among
others, slices through the air with quicksilver precision. He is
the complete embodiment of flawless technique, elan and unwavering
intent -- a diamond dancer.
Sabine Kupferberg, an
original member of NDT III, becomes ever more brilliant each year.
In her work with NDT in the eighties, when she was in her thirties,
Kupferberg danced with warmth and graciousness, but without a particularly
distinct style and never of the caliber of, say, Wendy Whelan or
Nina Ananiashvili. In her work with NDT III, however, Kupferberg
has carved a legacy for herself, not only defying the effects of
aging on a ballet dancer's technique, but also demonstrating what
sets a great artist apart from a merely good one. The slightest
incline of her head, the lilt of her cadence, a small finger twitch
-- everything reads with breathtaking clarity. I do believe that
if she wanted to, she could be the first bravura ballet dancer to
transition to Butoh without a hitch.
The current cast of NDT
III -- which also includes "newcomers" David Krugel and Giaconda
Barbuto -- seems capable of and game for just about anything. These
dancers are actually so fascinating to watch that they can often
make up for choreographic shortcomings.
Such is not the case
for "The Third of 2," a duet by Patrick Marin that plays like unsuccessful
sketches from the old Carol Burnett Show. Person 1 disappears behind
a door as person 2 appears looking for person 1. Person 2 goes behind
a door and person 1 reappears and so on. The dancers slo-mo mime
to the theme song for "2001: A Space Odyssey" and later belt out
the notes to 2001 while marching away, disappearing into a big green
wardrobe. A man chases a hat on a wire. Hats are thrown onto stage.
The old couple reminisces by playing a variation of "This little
piggy went to market" with their feet and a hat. Granted, a few
scrumptious morsels of dance pop up every now and then, but they
end up playing like quality entreacts in a bad vaudeville show.
The performers, Kupferberg and Lemaitre, deserve so much better.
Hans Van Manen's "Two
Faces," an angsty pas de deux for Barbuto and Krugel, sandwiches
lilting love duets between nightmarish sequences of tugging, pulling
and swooning. I love you, I love you not. Conflict, pain, valorous
love, and finally a dissipating denouement where the lovers separate
walking slowly, steadily away from each other. It's Tony and Maria
in tights, and it's painfully generic.
Jiri Kylian's "Trompe
L'oeil" fares better as a showcase for his dancers' range than as
a coherent piece of choreography. The short dance segments are arranged
as a series of non-sequiturs ranging from coin-operated mannequins
from the Gilded Ages to dancers popping in time to Steve Reich's
"Clapping Music." Kylian knows how to craft stunning movement phrases
for his dancers. Giving them a clever context, without being too
corny (example: a dancer miming sneezing into a handkerchief), is
a completely different matter. In a trompe l'oeil painting, objects
are depicted with photo-realistic detail. In Kylian's "Trompe L'oeil,"
slice-of-life elements include a pas de deux where a man talks on
his cell phone while turning his partner. The joke's over in five
seconds. After that, it's just annoying. Kitsch aside, Kylian does
succeed in parading the dancers' range and facility, creating crisp,
clean lines here, noodly spines and slinking arms there, and knitting
the whole thing together with clever footwork.
The "Vintage Blossom"
repertory actually shares the same problem that many of the programs
for NDT III have had over the past few years. You find real gems,
such as "Small Moves," which showcase the performers as the virtuostic
artists that they are, but more often, the repertory seems to lean
toward sentimental gimmickry, forcing the dancers to "act" on cue
and gaze skyward towards the Heavens -- the end of one journey,
beginning of another schlock. When the repertory of NDT III begins
to reflect a belief that aging does not diminish a dancer's ability
to absolutely engage an audience (let's lay the mime and hackneyed
sentiment to rest), the company will truly be making a profound
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