Houston — At the beginning, bizarre. At the end, uber bizarre. In between, stunning pas de deux (six altogether) and an absorbing, albeit abbreviated version of Ibsen’s Ghosts.
Such was the 20th annual Dance Salad Festival on April 4 at the Cullen Theater in Houston’s Wortham Center. Produced and directed by Nancy Henderek, the program featured eight dance companies ranging as far away as Norway, Germany, Korea and Australia, with only two from the United States.
Bereisthit Dance Company (Seoul, South Korea) bridged the gap between east and west in a play with balance and counterbalance. While the movement in Park Soon-ho’s Balance and Imbalance seemed egged on by relentless drumming and vocals, the action evoked images of pulleys, pump jacks, windmills, wheels, spears and metronomes.
This description may suggest intricate mechanical action, but the deft use of timing, spacing and rhythm increased the intensity. It opens with two men in everyday attire offering each other a hand, followed by twists, pulls, yanks and flips. Once flipped into a plank position, the position was held forever—not as a pose but a statement of support. More dancers join to engage in yet more of the push and pull action, the overhead flips and wrapped-around legs.
It suddenly segues into a cartoonish solo, where a bare-chested man takes on the stance of a robotic Ken doll while vocalist Kim Ju-ong pokes, prods and slaps Ken, making him collapse like a deflated balloon. After about eight minutes of comedy, X puts his T-shirt back on to return to a normal human state. From then on in sets of four or six, the dancers move on separate paths, the music pushing them on.
The six pas de deux ranged from romantic (Queensland Ballet’s Short Dialogues) to cool and detached (Semperoper Ballett Dresden’s pas de deux from William Forsythe’s Workwithinwork). In Short Dialogues, set to Philip Glass’s “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra,” three sets of couples appear and disappear in a mist, floating and swirling.
Semperoper Ballett Dresden also offered a spare Opus 11, where the same couple from Workwithinwork—Courtney Richardson and Fabien Voranger—seemed wary at first, and then succumbed to their feelings. Houston Ballet’s Shadow Lovers, performed by Melody Mennite and Connor Walsh, uses angles and stretched-out limbs to emphasize trust.
Cina Espejord’s Ibsen’s Ghosts (fittingly performed by the Norwegian National Ballet) may have been greatly reduced from its original 90-minute version, but the new version packed a punch as a psychological drama. All about secrets, lies, deception and longing, it opens with a film image of a little blonde boy as jazz trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær enters stage right, setting the mood of foreboding. Characters enter like ghosts, embracing one another and reappearing in new garb, making new connections and falling out of favor. The placement of figures—their isolation and their close encounters—says everything about long-held and dangerous secrets.
At the other end of the straightforward stratum was Sidi Largi Cherkaoui’s Rigor Mortis, performed by Eastman (Antwerp, Belgium). “Bizarre” barely fits the description.
It changed mood, direction, lighting, costume and purpose at a brisk pace, opening with men carrying army rifles and aiming them in geometric patterns. Men eventually fall. A woman in white Red Cross uniform and another man bring in two stretchers. They flip over one stretcher; the man drops. Another stretcher tilts upward, letting the soldier rest before sliding to the ground. This action is repeated many times, fast, with each fallen soldier appearing in yet more tattered and bloody clothes.
And so it goes, until at the last, one dying soldier is surrounded by six others holding globes, offering solace. It is a haunting image, a poignant comment on what is happening in the Middle East.
Giving the dance yet more power were the musicians playing Indian drum, guitars, Korean harp and traditional Japanese vocals.
Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.