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Flash Review 1, 4-26: Refocusing
Inger Makes 'Home' with Cullberg

By Debra Cash
Copyright 2002 Debra Cash

LINKOPING, Sweden -- The Cullberg Ballet is in transition. The mixed repertory program the company presented in the university town of Linkoping at the Konsert and Kongress last Wednesday, as part of its national tour, showed evidence of struggling to refocus its identity and embark on its next steps. In a few months, the company will pass its reins to young Swedish choreographer Johan Inger, born in Stockholm in 1967, the year Birgit Cullberg -- the doyenne of Swedish psychological ballet best known abroad for "Miss Julie" -- founded her company. "Home and Home," the culmination of the night's program, is the first piece Inger created directly for the troupe he is about to lead. The "homecoming" it represents is a comfortable and potentially exciting one.

Trained partially in Canada, Inger was a protégé of Jiri Kylian at the Netherlands Dance Theatre. He bears the stamp of his master: Inger seems to have absorbed a fluency of language and an ability to limn ambiguous emotional states in a few deft gestures. Very like Paul Taylor, Inger seems able to manipulate big ensembles in order to play out the facets of individual states of mind. The grimly dysfunctional family pattern that launches "Home and Home" becomes, in the course of the work's 33 minutes, a canny meditation on the ways childhood patterns may be repressed but never completely escaped.

Androgynously dressed in a bowler hat and dark skirt, an oppressive FatherMother figure, Mats Jansson, throws a young woman (Charlotte Broom) against a whitewashed wall. She amplifies the damage by pummeling herself against its surface when she is alone: she does not seem to know anything better. Adolescence, for a while, seems to be a way out. A peppy crowd of dancers wear silly conical party hats and the Neanderthal men strut and thrust out their crotches. The scene resemblesthe kind of teenage birthday party where the parents think you're playing pin the tail on the donkey but everyone is in the basement making out instead.

Moving the three walls resections the space cinematically. What could easily be a gimmick-as dancers pop out of windows and dangle their feet as they straddle the tops of ledges becomes a forum for intimacy. In one rare moment of tenderness, Broom is held horizontally in Carl Inger's arms. Tentatively, she steps along the canted wall, a journey she cannot take unsupported.

During "Home and Home," dancers keep moving a potted plant into new pools of light. That flower might have been planted in the fertile, melancholic soil of Jiri Kylian's "No More Play" from 1988. Strained and soured by movements of Webern string quartets, the children's games of blind man's bluff, ring-around-the-rosie, and schoolyard tussles are refracted through adult despondency: the seesawing of sexual connection, the bicycling that leads nowhere. The Cullberg dancers give the work's sculptural shapes weight and focus until at last they all fall down across the footlights, linked arm-in-arm like a row of paper dolls.

The long weighted threads that lend fretted texture to Belgian choreographer Stijn Celis' 2002 "Vertigo Maze" turns the dancers into broken marionettes whose limbs fly out akimbo and whose mechanically violent moves cannot cohere. Often overwrought and crammed with unnecessary detail, "Vertigo Maze" is most noteworthy for the remarkable solo danced impassively by the muscular Julie Guibert. Guibert folds herself in and out as if to untangle herself from a garment worn inside out and later, gathers volumes of air to her chest and manages to make the invisible look luxurious.


Debra Cash spent 17 years as a dance critic for the Boston Globe. She is now a regular contributor to National Public Radio and its web site, Public Interactive, and covers her local arts scene for Boston's Metro newspaper. Last week she traveled through Sweden under the auspices of the Swedish Institute.

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