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Flash Review, 3-16: 'Last Landscape'
Josef Nadj's Back to Nature Movement

By Paul Ben-Itzak
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 the music.

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 touring.


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