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Review, 3-16: 'Last Landscape'
Josef Nadj's Back to Nature Movement
Copyright 2006 The Dance Insider
PARIS -- When American
dancers get misty-eyed about what they believe is the more intellectually
grounded European scene, they are often thinking about creators
like Josef Nadj and Maguy Marin. Both were featured in New York's
multi-venue France Moves festival in 2001. Personally, I have been
trying to recover the compellingly sombre, intellectually 'absurdist'
Nadj, whose "The
Watchers" enthralled me in NY, for the past five years.
Except for "Petit Psaume du matin," his 2001 duet
with the entrancing Pina Bausch veteran Dominique Mercy, I have
been largely disappointed. Like his fellow France-based heavy-weight
Angelin Preljocaj, Nadj too often falls prey to props for no apparent
(even apparently 'absurdist') reason. Yet throughout, Nadj himself
-- as a performing personality -- has remained compelling to watch,
with a charisma on the level of other choreographer-performers like
Bill T. Jones, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, and Jean Babilee. Had
"Last Landscape," which opened Tuesday at the Rockefeller-constructed
Cite Internationale, in a co-presentation with the Theatre de la
Ville, been another group work, I might have abstained this time
around. Instead, I jumped at the chance to see Nadj dance more or
less solo, accompanied on stage by composer-percussionist Vladimir
Tarasov. I am happy to report that the body -- which so often these
days seems indeed like a lost landscape in dance, on its last legs
-- has re-asserted itself.
As has Nadj's strength
in setting a mood. 'Absurd' should not be confused with frivolous.
If "Last Landscape" begins in an 'absurdist' mode, what keeps it
from being light-weight is the strict seriousness with which Nadj
and Tarasov pursue their tasks. The first is to drop ping-pong balls
into pans of various sizes (and timbres) arrayed on a miniature
billiard-like table, thus opening the percussive score. Every move
is seriously considered, as they ponder which pan to drop a ball
into next from their opposing sides of the table -- even the humor,
when they have a ping-pong like exchange of balls, is well-timed
to leaven without undermining. Sure, they don red clown noses before
they start -- Tarasov's circular, Nadj's a cone -- but they do it
so ceremoniously that the effect is more to announce 'the play is
beginning' then to ridicule the stage. When this prelude concludes
and we only know that Tarasov is crossing to his drumset on the
other side of the stage by his nose blinking Rudolf-like in the
darkened terrain -- a sort of beacon in the last landscape, perhaps
-- the bit of illuminative nonsense makes sense.
Before I describe what
follows, perhaps this is the time to pause and tell you what Nadj
says he was looking to do here, which is not that complex: Return
to his physical roots, geographically and in his own body. "For
this work," he says in Irene Filiberti's program notes as roughly
translated by me, "I abandoned the literary references that usually
serve to support my work. I preferred to return to the research
of my own movements -- what you might call the origins." But he
also wanted to change his research space, so he left the studio
to live "in contact with nature," and open himself "to other internal
sensations." This he did, over different seasons, in the fields
not far from Kanizsa, the Hungarian town in the former Yugoslavia
where Nadj was born. In addition to researching how the body responds
to the country landscape, a parallel goal was to address the paysage
as does the painter -- to, among other things, "reconsider the rupture
between two languages: painting and dance." On top of these relationships,
once he hit the stage he was also interested in dialoguing with
In Josef Nadj, we find
someone acutely attuned to and trying to understand the various
landscapes which he's exploring and surveying: completely internal,
of his own body, the theatrical space, the outdoor landscape he's
trying to suggest to us, the musical canvas, the painted one --
even the projected. As often, he performs here in matching black
suit jacket and pants over a white shirt, and I don't think we should
take this as a lightly considered effect; indeed, the result is
empathy -- with that sad clown face, Nadj always suggests not a
scrubbed dancer but a normal guy, encountering the world, thus allowing
the normal people in the audience to enter more easily into the
experience with him.
This is not to say he
doesn't prove his dancer chops! The initial musician-dancer duet
is a tour-de-force, Nadj responding ferociously -- without ever
losing his equilibrium -- to Tarasov's batterie. Did I say 'responding'?
It's not always in this order. About midway through this first passage,
the lead seems to switch, with the drummer responding to the dancer.
And always -- and I think this is one of the things I love about
Nadj -- he retains the sense of wonder in the magic that's being
produced, each moment holding the potential for discovery.
"Last Landscape" continues
through March 25 at the Theatre of the Cite Internationale, with
Sunday performances in the afternoons and no shows on Wednesdays.
It's a co-production of just about everybody, including the Centre
Choregraphique National d'Orleans, directed by Nadj. If you're a
presenter reading this outside of France, you might also want to
know that this production has French taxpayer support for foreign