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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.

Appropriately enough, 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 jail.)

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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