Letter from New York, 11-24: Globe-Trotting in Gotham
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Rubsam Emotes; Charmatz & Chamblas Behave
By Gus Solomons jr
Copyright 2006 Gus Solomons jr
NEW YORK -- German-born Juilliard graduate Henning Rubsam -- who danced with Alwin Nikolais / Murray Louis Dance and toured with the Limon Dance Company, among others -- assembled an impressive array of ballet dancers, alumni of New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and Dance Theatre of Harlem, for his Joyce SoHo concerts, October 19-22. The five dances on the 90-minute evening reflected all his influences, but mostly his infatuation with ballet.
To the "Chorale" section from contemporary Spanish composer Ricardo Llorca's aptly titled "Three Academic Pieces for Piano," sturdy Ramon Thielen and delicate Melissa Morrissey twist and curl their lithe bodies through an array of difficult -- though not unfamiliar -- adagio lifts. In pas de deux, one looks for the metaphor -- how the movement epitomizes the relationship between partners. But Rubsam seems concerned not with metaphor, only physical convolutions.
"Merciless Beauty" (premiere), a provocatively titled but oddly disjointed suite, alternates between balletic lyricism, danced to a Bach cello suite, and modern dance Expressionism, to vocal settings by Leslie Wildman of poems by Chaucer, Dickinson, John Donne, and Shakespeare.
In the dance, solo essays, rife with arabesques and tours jeté, for Morrissey and Dartanion Reed in leotards and tights, give way to an emphatic solo by Rubsam, wearing black leather, stomping aggressively. When he falls to the floor, the other four enter and pile their heads atop his in the evening's most striking -- if incongruous -- image.
After intermission, the palpable tension of dancing -- and watching -- ballet in this intimate, black-box setting abates somewhat. In "Caves" (premiere), Andrea Long tiptoes on all fours like a hungry alien predator, taunting her hapless victim Reed. Both dancers seem to relish the angularity and menace of the piece.
In another premiere, "Gottingen" -- named after the German city -- Rubsam in white pajama pants and a tee-shirt makes gestures with ironic levity to a brief song by Barbara, the deceased French chanteuse, recorded by Daniel Isengart, a living French/German-American singer. Finally, "Dinner is West" (2005) takes its two ballet couples through a light-hearted, even occasionally humorous suite, set to an ingratiating cello, violin, and piano score by Beata Moon. Throughout, Stephen Petrilli's lighting accomplishes a lot with modest means.
The notion of escaping from "the normal context of performance" led choreographic team Boris Charmatz and Dimitri Chamblas in 1992 to devise their duet "A bras-le-corps" as the initial project of their collaborative Association Edna. They met as students at the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon and soon began challenging conventional performance with their choreography.
For their performances at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, October 26-28, the audience sits on two levels of chairs that surround a 12 by 18-foot dancing area. The two men, dressed casually in white tee-shirts and loose ankle-length pants, exude raw male energy, as they tussle separately and together through the intensely physical 45-minute duet. Wiry Charmatz is sandy-haired and bearded; dark-haired Chamblas is more muscular; both men are tall.
Each one jumps onto his prone partner's back; they tangle their strong bodies together at right angles and shift their weight to alternate who's the lifter and who's being lifted. Occasionally, they move in unison, side by side or facing different directions, or they repeat each other's motifs at different times.
Although the dance is conventionally composed with recognizable themes and recapitulations and alternating solo and duet passages, the sequence defies predictability and movement choices are strikingly unusual. Bold but intricate multidirectional striding, headlong runs, and somersaulting dives give way to eccentric little tics; Charmatz twists the skin on one wrist with the other hand; Chamblas wracks himself with tremors so violent his teeth rattle.
Snatches of Paganini violin music occur almost randomly throughout, softly in the background or piercingly loud in the darkness between sections. Subtle lighting by Renaud Lapperousaz ranges from general light that illuminates dancers and audience equally to hot down-pools to washes so dim you can barely see the action.
The performers' proximity to us makes their athletic tumbling electrifying. We hear their panting, sometimes articulated with vocal noises; their perspiration whips into our laps. In one solo Charmatz grabs one watcher's program and another's jacket and flings them across the space; the testosterone is virtually palpable.
But the intimacy of our location also allows us to experience the close bond between the two men. Their boyish rough-housing, good-natured competition, and tender tweaking is completely genuine -- no dance acting here, but a hard-core commitment to the action and trust that allows each in turn to leap, spinning, into the air, knowing the other will be there for the catch.
The classical training that underpins their agile coordination has turned line into pure energy. The physical and emotional maturity that has grown in the 14 years since the dance's creation adds patina to its youthful brusqueness. Their dancing illuminates both pure male energy and the unique depth of the artistic and personal friendship between them. You want to go have a beer with them after the show.
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