All I can say is that I am glad I don't live in The Hague. If I did, I would be compelled to go see Nederlands Dans Theater with the same moth-to-the-flame fascination that has me going to Fort Worth to see Texas Ballet Theater.
Watching the company's performance "An Evening with Kylián, Walerski, León and Lightfoot" on Sunday afternoon in the Ballet in Cinema from Emerging Pictures series, the two-and-a-half hour show was such a heavy dose of dark and grim that the memory will last a long time, and served to remind me that northern Europeans dance to a different drummer. Angst anyone?
Like just about every other dance company that gets on the bandwagon to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The Rite of Spring, Nederlands Dans Theater offers its own take. When first performed in Paris in May 1913, Rite created a scandal and sensation. When that version got lost, many different versions sprang up over the years inspired by Stravinsky's driving score.
NDT, however, ignores Stravinsky, and calls its version Chamber, choreographed by Medhi Walerski. Joby Talbot's music, while atonal and spare, has little punch. But "rite" it is, with primitive, almost subhuman beings attacking the earth as it cracks open in spring. On a brown bare background, dancers in the thinnest and smallest of flesh-colored outfits move like long-legged frogs, deliberately ungraceful. They cover the stage scattershot fashion, each one expressing the struggle to survive, before gathering to hone in on the "chosen one." It is raw, but not nearly as bleak and powerful as Pina Bausch's version, or as intense as Bruce Wood's.
A good bit of the company's repertory comes from Jirí Kylián, who some 22 years ago created six "Black and White Ballets." Two of those ran back to back, his black ballet Sweet Dreams followed by a black-and-white ballet, Sarabande. The first was more nightmare than dream, featuring four couples in smart black corset-bodices and stockings, or else black pants. It begins as a dancer walks delicately over a row of green apples. She's followed by soloists, couples and a trio who are isolated by square shafts of white light. The apples—which will roll around the stage, park on top of heads, be held carefully or end up clamped by teeth—represent forbidden desire. The dance is odd and toy-like, as though the couples are machine-made and bump together as though pushed and pulled on puppet-strings.
Gorgeous long period gowns are suspended above the back of the stage, moving up and down like parachutes, while six men in black pants and white shirts fan out on stage in Sarabande. The only sounds are amplified thuds and groans and expelled breath, as the men leap, slither, crawl and spiral turn, with action that is as sharply defined as it is explosive.
Almost too clever, Sol León and Paul Lightfoot's Swan Song has the feel of characters trapped in a medieval castle even though the set is a grand, arched staircase trimmed in gold. Clearly, a staircase is to run up and down (as in life) but then it moves on its own, splitting in two like a giant melon. At the end, it will clamp shut.
Various characters appear—six men in black suits and three women. One woman wears a white slip, another wears a red, and a third wears a grey. They seem to represent allegorical figures, but their meaning is obscure. The one in white disappears between the cut-apart staircase, the one in red later sleeps halfway up, while the one in grey makes a dramatic appearance between the staircase's split parts.
If the idea is a bit murky, the dancing is not: elegant, lithe and full of surprises.
◊ 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.
◊ The screening repeats at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27 at the following local theaters:
- Cinemark 17 with IMAX, 11819 Webb Chapel Rd, Dallas, TX 75234
- Cinemark West Plano, 3800 Dallas Pkwy, Plano, TX 75093
- Cinemark Allen 16, 921 State Highway 121, Allen, TX 75013
- Cinemark Alliance Town Center, 9228 Sage Meadow Trail, Fort Worth, TX 76177
- Carmike Tyler 14, 7415 South Broadway, Tyler, TX 75703
◊ To see more upcoming performances in the Ballet in Cinema series, click the link in the factbox above (below the photos).