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Flash Review, 1-31: Cechetti becomes
A True "Heaven on Earth" from Netherlands Dance Theatre
By Rosa Mei
Copyright 2002 Rosa Mei
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- Once in
a blue moon, soul coughing, tears rolling, you see a piece so exquisitely crafted,
so moving, you feel that the world would be a better place if more people could
just get a glimpse. William Forsythe's "Quintett" is just such a piece. Seen Saturday
at the Lucent Danstheater as part of Netherlands Dance Theatre's "Heaven on Earth"
program, along with Nacho Duato's "Remansos" and Ohad Naharin's "Queens of Golub"
and "Black Milk," "Quintett" (though it could use a more clever name) stands as
one of Forsythe's most humanistic and emotionally expressive works. It reminds
me of the luscious, imagistic prose of L. Annie Proulx and the poetry of Wislawa
Szymborska. As Szymborska once wrote, ""I slide my arm from under the sleeper's
head and it is numb, full of swarming pins, on the tip of each, waiting to be
counted, the fallen angels sit."
A key emotive element of Forsythe's
"Quintett"(1993) is Gavin Bryars's musical score set to a hobo's rendition of
the religious hymn "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet," a raspy, old man's voice
crooning into what sounds like a ham radio mike. Half the words are muffled and
lost, and the same phrase keeps repeating over and over again. You hear, "blood
never failed me" and "thing I know, that he loved me so," but he could also be
saying "love never bound me" and "if I think I know." It matters little. Key words:
"love" and "I know." Bryars, a frequent John Cage collaborator in the late 1960s,
wrote this about his composition of "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet":
"In 1971, when I lived in London,
I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in
the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being
filmed, some people broke into drunken song -- sometimes bits of opera, sometimes
sentimental ballads -- and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song
"Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet." This was not ultimately used in the film and
I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.
"When I played it at home, I found
that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment.
I noticed, too, that the first section of the song -- 13 bars in length -- formed
an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape
loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied
the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated
accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the
large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while
I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room
unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and
a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.
"I was puzzled until I realized that
the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man's singing.
This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities
offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment
that respected the tramp's nobility and simple faith. Although he died before
he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent,
but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism." (Excerpted from the web
What Forsythe adds to the music in
"Quintett" is subtext, dramatic arc, glorious dancing and a cloud machine. The
piece begins in stark, fluorescent lighting with the five dancers facing each
other in a circle, warriors in a Roman coliseum eyeing their opponent. As they
start to move, one by one, you see character traits, the comfort of solitude,
an exceedingly formal language. Textbook ballet positions -- en croix, devant,
derriere, pirouettes with arms in first position. The formalism gradually fades.
As the sound loop repeats itself 150 times, Cechetti becomes Rodin. Body parts
ricochet off one another, one dancer baptizes her partner, while another hip-checks
his partner and her knees start to buckle sequentially. Ivan Dubreuil taps Nancy
Euverink's foot, she swoons and all is okay with the world. This Romeo tosses
his Juliet in the air and feels the texture of her hair on the way down. The dancers,
their feet in socks, glide across the stage as if the surface is ice, not marley;
they fling their bodies and fall, knowing someone unseen will catch them. When
the big cloud machine, which resembles one of those contraptions for pelting tennis
balls, finally projects its little imaginary clouds on the scrim, Euverink keeps
dancing, a wild-child bound by relentless sorrow, searching for some solace in
song, re-inventing solitude.
The solitary women in Ohad Naharin's
"Queens of Golub"(1977) never touch. They are primordial earth creatures, part
human, part animal. These amazons squat, mourn and contort their bodies with restless
sighs. Distorted limbs, precariously perched arches, the back of a woman sobbing,
pigments of emotion. Naharin creates vignettes of a strong community of women
made of the earth, struggling for individual as well as collective identity. A
more recent piece, "Black Milk"(1982) deals with similar issues in a tribal community
of men, though the piece is often danced by five women. The ritual of smearing
black mud on the face and body forms a bond between the five tribal members. They
flip, tilt and barrel jump in unison, prancing in strong diagonals across the
stage. Though there are ecstatic moments, the movement is far more generic and
evenly paced than the expressionist squiggles seen in "Queens of Golub," on the
whole a more intricate and layered piece.
Nacho Duato's "Remansos," unfortunately,
lacks layers almost completely, hiding, instead, behind hackneyed images of love
and over-polished, though playful duets. As the piece progresses, a red rose gets
passed from performer to performer. I mean, did someone read, "My love is like
a red, red rose" and say Eureka!? Kitschy symbolism aside, Duato is an incredibly
glib choreographer, fastidious in his crafting of movement phrases, all organic
and technically rigorous. Yet something about his work feels antiseptic, slightly
robotic, as if people are following carefully mapped out cog patterns, choreographed
down to every quarter, eighth and sixteenth note, with a bit of mime thrown in
for good measure. He seems to want to underline and italicize the technical prowess
of his performers, whereas Forsythe merely takes their skill level as a given
and moves on to make his statement. Annie and Wislawa would be proud.
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