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Review 2, 4-7: So Good it Hurts
In NDT-Land with Kylian and Inger
By Aimee Tsao
Copyright 2004 Aimee Tsao
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BERKELEY -- Three years
after its last visit here, Netherlands Dance Theater presented two
programs at Zellerbach Hall, March 24-28. It's difficult to say
which is more acute, the anticipation preceding the performances,
or the aftermath. I expect more from NDT than any other company
and I am always left with higher standards for those other companies
to be measured against. In fact, it is painful for me to see most
other companies perform after an encounter with NDT.
I can still vividly
remember Netherlands Dance Theater's New York debut in 1968. I was
a young ballet student, with a rather eclectic background that included
the avant-garde and found this young company, not yet
ten years old, unbelievably versatile and exhilarating. The dancers,
at home in ballets on pointe, modern pieces by Glen Tetley, and
even a high energy jazz number, were very proficient both technically
and artistically. I had never seen a company like it. Later, when
I lived in Europe and had the opportunity to see it perform again,
I was impressed at how rapidly the company evolved, constantly growing
in new directions. Back in San Francisco, I could only follow now-former
artistic director Jiri Kylian's choreography as it was performed
by companies like San Francisco Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet.
SFB had performed NDT
former resident choreographer Hans van Manen's "Black Cake" several seasons ago, but I had not seen
it performed by NDT so could make no comparison. A few weeks ago
I saw SFB dance his "Grosse Fugue" which I had seen NDT perform
in London in 1973. The SFB dancers did an admirable job, but they
need more power of execution and intensity in projection to equal
the Dutch company's interpretation. With time they will likely achieve
In 2001, when NDT was
last here, I had the chance to see six of Kylian's works and this
time I was able to catch five more. I am still astounded by the
breadth of his artistic range. Within his body of work there are
several categories from pure dance to highly theatrical dramas.
He explores movement and structure from many points of view and
it is startling to realize that all this comes from the same mind.
The first program, which
I see on Wednesday, March 24, consists of Kylian's "Claude Pascal"
(2002), "Last Touch" (2003) (previously reviewed here by Stephan Laurent) and "27'52"" (2002). "Claude
Pascal" is an interesting juxtaposition of elements. Four dancers,
a woman, two men and a boy, dressed in black and white turn-of-the
century (not the recent one, 1900) costumes stand and move in front
of a long row of panels, reciting text that hovers somewhere between
absurdist and terribly pretentious. I would have preferred that
the words were pure nonsense or in an obscure foreign language that
no one in the audience is likely to understand. These four disappear
behind the panels, which rotate to reveal mirrors on their reverse
sides. Now a contemporary couple, a shirtless man and bare-legged
woman in a flesh bustier, dance a pas de deux. Both the choreography
and the way it is danced are flawless. The effect is one of organic
liquidity; there is never a misstep as one movement flows into another.
The first group of dancers emerge from the panels for another round
of text and gesture, followed by another evocative pas de deux by
a second couple. The four period characters return for an almost
Monty Pythonesque section involving the exchanging of props -- a
fan, a cane, a ball and a racquet. Eventually, three of them leave
their props with one man who slowly shuffles off. Finally, a third
couple performs a duet before the piece concludes with more dialogue
and a solo for a woman. The structure is not a mere alternating
of the two groups, old-fashioned and contemporary; often several
panels are left ajar and dancers from the other group are seen in
the background or reflected in a mirror, or are standing or moving
slowly at the side of the stage. The lighting by Kees Tjebbes, in
this and in the other two pieces on the program, is magnificent,
subtly highlighting what needs to be seen, or creating the exact
atmosphere required for the moment.
The second Kylian piece,
"Last Touch," is based on an idea entirely different from the one
used in the preceding ballet. Imagine combining Chekhov and Kabuki
to create an absolutely riveting slow motion drama. The last dance
is "27'52,"" again in another vein. As with the previous two works,
the music, by Dirk Haubrich, is haunting. Choreographed for three
couples, this piece uses the set in a more jarring way. While "Claude
Pascal" has panels rotating from gray to mirror and back, and "Last
Touch" has the dancers move chairs, a table and a cloth that covers
the floor, "27'52"" literally has curtains falling from above during
the performance and the marley being moved on the floor, with the
dancers actually wrapping themselves in it at times.
Three nights later,
on Saturday, March 27, I see the second program. The first two ballets
by Kylian, "Symphony of Psalms" and "Click-Pause-Silence," have
already been reviewed here, so I will concern myself with Johan Inger's "Walking
Mad." My first impression is that I've seen this type of piece before,
but as it unfolds, I discover that there is more beneath the surface.
A man wearing a bowler hat and raincoat -- how cliche -- climbs
a ladder out of the orchestra pit, crosses the apron and lifts the
curtain, which now rises to show a wooden wall. This wall is utilized
in very imaginative ways. It moves forward and back, and splits
as one section is lowered to the floor to become a mini-stage. Some
of its panels open and shut like doors and people enter and exit
through them. Dancers climb it and disappear over the top or step
off it in a fall into the void. At one point it is angled to form
a corner off-center and while a couple dances along it and in front
of it, the lighting, designed by Erik Berglund, casts a double set
of shadows, adding to the intensity of an already powerful encounter.
In the beginning I am
put off by Ravel's "Bolero" as it has been used ad nauseam, but
I gradually change my mind, as it really becomes a corny backdrop
for all kinds of lunacy, a herd of men wearing dunce caps, or the
general pandemonium of a silent movie chase scene. When the music
suddenly stops and Arvo Part's "Fur Alina" begins, the tone of the
work shifts dramatically and reinforces the weirdness of the combination
of wacky humor and serious reflection.
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