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Review 2, 10-13: Brave Old World
Sasha Waltz Busts to Move
By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2004 The Dance Insider
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PARIS -- Who'd have
thought that the French dance scene, mesmerized by the bright lights
of outdated theater concepts, would be saved from its paralysis
-- or at least receive a refresher on dance's core movement values
-- by an artist from the land of tanztheater? And yet, following
up on Pina Bausch's dancey "Nefes," which closed the last Paris season at the Theatre
de la Ville - Sarah Bernhardt, German choreographer Sasha Waltz
has opened this one in the same venue with a brave foray into pure
dance that, notwithstanding the occasional truc or prop along
the way, once again demonstrates that this is a CHOREOGRAPHER who
finds her metier in challenges.
Created earlier this
year and receiving its Paris premiere last night -- the US premiere
comes December 5, 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music -- "Impromptus,"
set to Franz Schubert's cycle of the same name plus four lieder,
follows on the heels of "Insideout." In her review of that piece during its initial Berlin run
last year, the Dance Insider's Aimee Ts'ao called it "an impressive
extravaganza, an installation rather than a proscenium stage performance,
in which the audience wanders among the dancers while climbing up
and down and strolling in and out a jungle gym of rooms/performance
spaces designed by Thomas Schenk; some are part of a large central
construction, others free standing "buildings"; some are completely
accessible to the spectators, others inaccessible."
For "Impromptus," all
is eminently accessible, vertiginously so, as the dancers cascade
down two super-raked slats designed by Schenk and the choreographer.
(Jochen Sandig and Yoreme Waltz served as dramaturgs.) With delicacy
and fortitude, pianist Cristina Marton renders Schubert from a baby
grand just below the downstage right corner of the smaller flat,
joined dramatically when fiery-haired soprano Judith Simonis mounts
the flat to deliver the first lieder. The dancing, inflected with
Waltz's quirky humor, often continues in long intervals of silence
between the musical pieces.
Ironically and as previously
noted, this reviewer finds it more challenging to analyze pure movement
than overtly narrative creations, but I'll try to share some highlights.
If it's hard to trace
the vocabulary of "Impromptus" to one school of movement, it's not
hard to see that, as with her dance-theater work, Waltz often gives
herself (and her dancers, who are co-credited for the choreography
here) added challenges or assignments which up the anti. So what's
striking about an early duet between Xuan Shi and Juan Kruz Diaz
de Garaio Esnaola is not that it's male-male, nor the tonal contrast
of Shi in just black briefs to his partner in grey slacks and matching
sleeveless chemise, nor even that they're exploring different levels
-- all this, remember, on a hyper-raked stage. The assignment and
the marvel here seems to be "Look Ma! No hands," as Shi balances
in different attitudes on different planes of Kruz Diaz de Garaio
Esnaola's body, never once using his hands as ballast. Kruz Diaz
de Garaio Esnaola, likewise, is not permitted to assure his baggage's
stability with his hands; while he quivers at one point -- when
a vertical Shi balances on his side, as I recall -- he never drops
Another section for
all seven dancers begins with them drawing circles -- I meant literally
drawing -- on the two stages/flats, then running circles around
the two floor slats and behind the upright upstage flat, in essentially
a waltz (you can thank me now for resisting "Waltz Waltzes" as my
If its courageous for
Waltz to step out of what she knows best -- dance-theater -- into
pure dance, she isn't able to completely give up that safety net,
or crutch. Occasionally -- almost as a six-year-old child might
do when he's trying to wean himself from his security blanket, no
longer needing it as an appendage but still looking over at it to
make sure it's still there -- Waltz can't resist extra-dance effects.
Thus one section begins not with the sounds of Schubert, but of
water-filled galoshes trudging onto the stage, ploddingly, on the
feet of Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola and Claudia de Serpa Soares,
a compact and sleek power-house and a Waltz regular. After the men
paint orange and black lines below the feet of the four women, the
water is poured onto the paint, diluted streams cascading down the
stages. Matters threaten to get out of hand; when two women on the
smaller stage started grappling, I wrote down, "Female mud wrestling."
But then everyone exits save Maria Marta Colusi on the smaller right
slat, and Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola on the left.
They stop. He notices
her, and steps up to her platform. They face each other silently
before beginning an intricate pas de deux. Her white dress is splotched
in orange paint, his face smudged in black; she has a smudge too.
Yet they are oblivious to these deformations as they weave with
and around each other. My companion noted the odd yet riveting connections,
as when she rests her head on his foot then slips between his legs.
I saw -- perhaps projecting -- a narrative: We all arrive at relationships
with our own stains. And yet we join. Far from scaring off our desired
partners, the stains, our marks, sometimes rub off on each other,
forging a brilliant future from our scarred pasts.
It would be lyrical
to end my review there, as it would have been for Waltz to let this
duet finish in its integrity. Unfortunately, here again -- perhaps
not fully trusting her ability to dance without the crutch of props
-- just when Colusi and Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola are floating
into the sublime, Waltz pulls us abruptly out of it by interjecting
a third dancer, a woman who appears from below a panel in the smaller
slat, a region which reveals itself as a bathtub. She strips, of
course. The moment is broken. Kruz Diaz etc. jumps off the stage
and parts, leaving Colusi to yearn winsomely after him, but only
for a moment before she turns silly and strips too, joining the
other woman in the bath. And voila, just when you thought it was
safe to get back in the water, so to speak, we get what Joe-Bobb
Briggs might call Gratuitous Nekkid-Bimbo-Bath-Fu. (Which is not
to say the women are bimbos, but that for all that their dance skills
are utilized, they might as well be as they sit on the rim of the
tub with their butt-cracks to us.)
Still, at a time when
even the Paris Opera Ballet's direction has precipitated one of
our finest classical companies into a (bad) Modern morass, Sasha
Waltz's "Impromptus" arrives as a welcome refresher on the beauty
and power of pure unadulterated dance. My hope is that this is not
a one-off for the choreographer, an answer to those (in some quarters
-- not this one) who from her dance-theater oeuvre needed to see
proof she could really choreograph. This is a woman with a mind,
and this is a dance that demonstrates that mind is just as intriguingly
applied to movement problems as improbable dance-theater scenarios.
In addition to those
mentioned above, Sasha Waltz's "Impromptus," set to Schubert, was
performed and co-choreographed by Clementine Deluy, Luc Dunberry,
and Michal Mualem. It continues at the Theatre de la Ville - Sarah
Bernhardt through Saturday. Please visit the theater's web site.
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