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Flash Review, 1-31: Cechetti becomes Rodin
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 site http://www.gavinbryars.com.)

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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