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Flash Dispatch, 7-16: Amsterdam Alphabet
The New Dances of Julidans
By David Parker
Copyright 2001 David Parker
AMSTERDAM -- The Julidans Festival,
held every July in Amsterdam, is a high-profile, two-week long survey of mostly
European contemporary dance. Participants like Wim Vandekeybus, Ballets C. de
la B., Emio Greco/PC and Marie Chouinard make this an all-star event and give
audiences the opportunity to see these and others in work that has brought them
acclaim. I was in Amsterdam following my own company's participation in an Italian
dance festival in Rome. I had business in Holland and I was able to catch two
different shows at Julidans. I saw Ballets C. de la B. from Belgium, and Emio
Greco/PC from The Netherlands.
Les Ballets C. de la B. is a fascinating
choreographers collective from Ghent. The company is led by choreographer Alain
Platel but produces work by many artists and was featured in several different
shows in this year's edition of Julidans. I saw "Rien de rien" by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui,
a young Belgian/Moroccan. This is, apparently, his choreographic debut and it
is a beauty. Ghent is in Flemish Belgium, where Dutch (Nederlands) is the official
language and "Rien de rien" plays off the vertigo-inducing mixture of languages,
cultures and ethnicities of his performers. There is an almost giddy pleasure
in the fluent interchange between words and movement and a marvelous yielding
to the knowledge that no one understands all the words. This leads to the emergence
of movement as the most legible, reliable and intact of the languages in this
Babel which is, I think, a triumph.
"Rien de rien" is always surprising,
full of stark juxtapositions and sometimes hilarious dislocations. The cast is
made up of performers of widely various ages, all of whom contributed to the creation
of the material. A grown black woman and a white teenaged girl recount, in perfect
unison and in English, a story about a trip to a primitive society. Their prosaic
gestures take on an intriguing formal quality by being doubled and they eventually
overturn our attention to the words, which are about a cross-cultural experience.
Suddenly, the combination of gestures and spoken languages comes to seem equally
cross-cultural. Many tongues are spoken here and not necessarily by native speakers.
Significantly, Dutch is not among them. Contemporary dance vocabulary is used
almost as an ethnic form alongside tango, jitterbug, classical dance and Middle-eastern
59-year-old former ballet dancer
Marie Louise Wilderijkx comes in and out of "Rien de rien" like a harbinger. Wilderijkx
dances a delicate, armless tango with a much younger man and later does fragments
of "The Dying Swan." She seems to inspire two other dancers to engage in an exhibition-style
Lindy performed without music, the rhythm of their feet clearly tapping out a
New York dialect. At times the partners drift apart and pantomime the partnering,
sometimes substituting one dancer for another without ceremony. Replacement becomes
a theme. During a rapid dance combination, one dancer trips and falls over another
who lies on the floor and is immediately replaced by him. A monologue ends up
fragmented across the stage in gestures, words and lip movements. A black woman
sings a torchy song while other dancers lip-synch her words and gestures silently
to one another. Two men dance a contact-improvisation inspired duet in which one
of the men appears dead or inert, stiff as a log. The duet climaxes with the man
being set right on his head against a wall. He eventually falls over like a tree
in the woods that no one seems to hear.
A man sings in Latin while another
man close behind him uses his arms to provide gestural commentary like a tacky
Middle-eastern nightclub routine. A male dancer repeatedly kicks the back of his
head with a thunk. People take off their clothes while others pantomime doing
the same, a man puts on a dress and carries a bouquet, another climbs up the back
wall of the stage and drops off the back into oblivion, someone gets naked, there
is more singing in various languages and finally one man spray-paints the phrase
"Nederlands A.U.B." (Dutch please) across the back wall of the stage and the audience
Throughout the piece, a cellist seated
high on an onstage platform plays twentieth century concert music with an air
of imperturbability. It's hard to imagine how Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will follow
this dense and beautiful work, which merged so many elements so elegantly. I look
forward to whatever comes next.
Emio Greco is an Italian choreographer
who works in Holland in collaboration with Dutch theater director Pieter C. Scholten;
they call their company Emio Greco/PC. Their work has been seen across Europe
in many prestigious festivals in recent years. The program notes can be overwhelming,
announcing such thematic concerns as "the longing for a synchronized, unison manifestation
of mind and body, in defiance of the knowledge that this can never be fulfilled."
Maybe it's the translation. This time the pair announced their investigation of
the "longing for a fusion of different sensory perceptions." No small matter.
This work is called "Conjunto di
Nero" and features stunning and evocative lighting as part of a thoroughly coordinated
theatrical event for light, sound, movement and set design, all conceived by Greco
and Scholten. The audience enters the theater to deafening techno music (a sound
collage by Wim Selles) while a lone dancer onstage executes a very slow sequence
interspersed with ballet steps, some of which are on pointe. We gradually notice
that a barely visible figure behind a scrim mimics this soloist's movements. She
falls and we hear her shadow fall. Eventually she is replaced by four other dancers
in fraught sequences of unison.
The movement is typically driven
by the extremities: arms, legs, feet and head with occasional sudden drops to
the floor. All characteristics of Greco's personal style. He is a small, handsome
man with a feral gaze and a taut attack and he features himself prominently in
this work. He, alone, is dressed in white for the latter part of the piece while
the four other dancers remain clad in darker shades. The sharply-enunciated phrases
are spikey and metric without being syncopated. There never seems to be any offbeat.
Thus, the movement has a harsh, relentless quality which is apparently meant to
burn itself into our perception.
One striking sequence features rapid
phrases performed in unison by some dancers lying down and others lying upright.
The use of repetition underlines this and the stark shifts in speed and volume
are accompanied by instant lighting changes which plunge the dancers into uncompromising
brightness or shadow. These shocking effects are masterfully achieved (lighting
by Henk Danner and Erik Lint) and, while the air of self-importance can be off-putting,
there is never less than complete commitment on the part of Greco and his dancers.
The stage space is a place of unpredictable density and mystery; a place of infinitely
triturated blacks, whites and greys. Sometimes it is thick with darkness and fog,
sometimes it explodes with light and sounds. The dancers remain vulnerable to
these effects which overexpose or hide them. There is a canny interplay between
shadowing which brings the bodies of the dancers into the continuum of lightness
and darkness which is the work's subject. Nothing in this piece is taken lightly,
but it is indeed illuminating.
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