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Flash Review 3, 5-15: Jailbait
Perfect Forsythe from NDT
By Jill Cirasella
Copyright 2003 Jill Cirasella
AMSTERDAM -- I first
saw William Forsythe's"Quintett" in 2001 (see Chris
Dohse's review of Ballett Frankfurt at the Brooklyn Academy
of Music), and I spent weeks trying to describe its rapturous effect.
I never did find the right words, so perhaps my physical reaction
says it best: I went home and jumped up and down on my bed. Of course,
I eventually calmed down. But, when I learned that Nederlands Dans
Theater would be performing it this year, I started babbling and
bouncing all over again.
NDT brought "Quintett"
and two new dances to Het Muziektheater earlier this month; I caught
the May 5 performance. The premieres were shown first, and I was
anxious for "Quintett," so I approached them with impatience. Furthermore,
I had impossibly high expectations for "Quintett" itself. I was
bound to be disappointed. Amazingly, I wasn't.
First was Orjan Andersson's
"Quartet #10," danced to Shostakovich's Symphony for Strings, Opus
118A and String Quartet #10, arranged for string orchestra by Rudolf
Barschai. Shostakovich is always danceable, but Andersson's choreography
is also actively musical. The steps are big, sure-footed, and sneakered,
and they add a light percussion to the orchestration.
the dance's two best sections are quartets. The first is a hypnotic
sequence for four women on the floor. Flipping from their backs
to sides to stomachs, they dance the most full-bodied floor-bound
choreography I have ever seen. Immediately following is a sequence
for four men galumphing (in a very good way) around the stage. As
I watched them, I realized that my impatience had completely dissipated.
"Quartet #10" is a dance
without devices. With simple lighting and no set, there is nothing
to watch besides its twelve dancers -- but they were quite something
to watch. Their presence (which I'd sooner call bodily presence
than stage presence) was remarkable. Especially stunning were Mariette
Redel and Shirley Esseboom. Like everybody else, they wore tee-shirts
and black pants, but they caught my eye as though they were in sequins.
Next was Johan Inger's
"Pneuma," which is more theatrical and less successful than "Quartet
#10." Its music is John Adams's Shaker Loops, expertly played by
the Holland Symfonia. "Pneuma" is danced on and around four curved,
moveable walls, which allow for surprising entrances, exits, and
peeks. However, "Pneuma" is not NDT's best dance involving moving
walls. I far prefer Paul Lightfoot and Sol Leon's "Safe as Houses,"
whose single, swinging wall is itself a performer.
"Pneuma"'s best moments
are in three duets near the end of the dance. These duets are filled
with small, easy-to-miss surprises. My favorite involves a woman
tossing a man off her back. Also, I had to marvel when dancers separated
by walls performed identical phrases in perfect unison. Most dancers
can't pull this off even when they are in plain view of each other.
But, all told, I found
"Pneuma" a little grating. So did the NDT devotee next to me, who
revealed that he had once spent a night in jail so he could see
NDT. "Where is Hans van Manen when you need him?" he asked. I assured
him that all would be made right with "Quintett."
The homeless man's voice
started quietly: "Jesus's blood never failed me yet...." I readied
myself for rapture. A minute into the dance, I realized I wasn't
feeling anything, and I started to worry. Two minutes in, three
minutes in, I still didn't feel anything. 25 minutes and one ecstatic
trance later, I realized I had forgotten to check again.
Gavin Bryars' orchestration
of a homeless man's hymn is famously melancholy, and Forsythe's
choreography contributes to the mood. Its fluctuations between formal
ballet and frolicking are breathtaking and somehow bittersweet.
However, "Quintett" is not a tear-jerker, and it is not manipulative.
In fact, I found myself most affected not by its mood but by the
realization that I was watching something perfect.
Also, all five dancers
were perfect. Moving through a spotlight of breezy clouds, they
walked, ran, fell down, threw themselves around. As they relayed
and ricocheted little movements between each other, I felt I was
watching the world's most gorgeous game of tag.
I still can't find the
right words, but here are a few: "Quintett" is a dance that makes
you clutch your heart. (It might even make you spend the night in
Jill Cirasella is currently living in Amsterdam, studying logic
on a Netherland-America Foundation Fulbright Fellowship. Previously,
she was librarian of the Dance Notation Bureau. Her education includes
a B.A. in computer science from Amherst College, an M.S. in library
and information science from Simmons College, and years and years
of dance classes.
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