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Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal

'Solo for Two,' 'Without Words,' 'Sechs Tanze'

by Stephen Arnold

July 21-25, 2004 -- Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob's Pillow, Massachusetts


Driven by the picture of dancers Alisia Pobega and Mariusz Ostrowski undraped and statuesquely posing in a blinkless face-to-face gaze as the black rampart like set behind them vicariously thumped and slammed and pounded out a primal moment, a shameless shandism popped into one’s mind: in the beginning were two singularities, then the big bang.

In the sense that "Solo For Two," choreographed by Mats Ek to three pieces by Arvo Part, features the primal moment of colliding singularities, it echoes an earlier work of Ek’s titled "Grass." Also set on a male and female dancer and to music for piano, "Grass," performed by 59 Degrees North at Jacob’s Pillow in 1997, tells a Darwinian angled Adam and Eve story. The piece begins with the male character crawling out of a stand of grass and across the stage to the main drape where he pulls himself to an upright position. Eve, who enters the work in a more dignified manner, follows later. The piece ends as the human characters, their lives completed, melt back into the stand of plants that generated them.

Although the message of the work could simply be that “all life is as Grass,” the Adam and Eve ingredient and Ek’s choice of Rachmaninov’s Paques or Easter from his Fantasies Tableaux to signify the couple’s commitment to each other suggests something spiritual as well. In this light, one adds (perhaps the shandist reasoning so far) to the meeting of singularities - or that moment in human relationships expressed by an odd combination of mathematics, physics, and spirituality as 1+1=1 -- a second resonating feature that harmonizes the two works; and that is their music’s use of bells or bell-like sounds to transfigure their stories.

In addition to supporting the intimacy of these dances for two, the piano music for "Solo for Two" by Part, particularly "Fur Alina," exemplifies his “tintinnabulation” style of composition, and in "Grass" Rachmaninov’s riotous recreation for two pianos of a Russian Easter celebration at once announced the couple’s ‘marriage’ ceremony and infused into an otherwise materialistic world a sense of wonder if not divinity.

Part, according to conductor and musicologist Paul Hillier, holds that the vibrations of sounding bells will resound indefinitely, that the complex sound of bell changes are nevertheless harmonically changeless, and that that stability of sound, embodied specifically for Part in, for example, a major or minor triad, indicates for the devout Russian Orthodox composer the presence of divinity within the world. Additionally, it is Part’s view that the melodic or linear element of his compositions represents subjectivity while the harmonic or vertical element indicates the presents of divinity. Metaphorically, the linear/subjectivity interaction with the vertical/divinity aspects of Part’s music describes the relationship between the movement and ‘story’ of "Solo for Two" with Part’s music.

Where the mood, setting, music, and movement of "Grass" suggests, even when tempered by the transience of its characters, "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" kind of joyfulness, it is otherwise with "Solo for Two." The black battlement-like set, the dim yet shadow-less lighting, and the saturation of the ample musical spaces of Part’s music with the weighted, angular, and often frenetic and angst ridden movement of either dancer generates a brooding existential mood. Moreover, the movement seasoned with such personal behaviors as scratching, sneezing, nose blowing, urinating, chin ups, coughing, screaming, undressing, dressing, a newborn’s howling, canoe or maybe a perambulator paddling, turning off light switches (and the stage lighting responds), the sudden breaking off a waltz, and more emphasizes the locked in singularity of its characters.

The movement seems to be saying that one will in fact suffer, without deferment or even explanation the contents of life -- coughing, the need to urinate, etc. And in spite of intimacy, recall the pounding set and the title, "Solo for Two," even though the pair dance together, the gap between lovers remains forever bridgeless. The unity of shared lives expressed in the 1+1=1 expression becomes, alas, mere wishful thinking. And when the mirroring structures (including the exchange of costumes -- for a time, he wore her long sack-like dress and she wore his exercise-ware) and the serene implacability of Part’s music and all combine. "Solo for Two" resonates darkly within the thin partials of sound that forever roll from Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” triad.

“Without Words,” choreographed by Nacho Duato to six songs without their words by Franz Schubert and set on four each female and male dancers contrasted sharply both in point of view and movement choices with Ek’s piece. Although words written in the program such as ‘dark’ and ‘existential’ might claim descriptive power over it, “Without Words,” for this viewer, summoned instead a mood of tempered melancholy and reflection rather than the realization that “hell is other people” or that the “world” is a troubling symptom of a divided spirit. Rather, the soft black and white pictures projected upon a screen to the right (as viewed from the audience) and above of the performance space marked both structural changes and indicated a changeless, ideal world. One felt the presence of Plato rather than Hegel or given the work’s emphasis on hetero-relationships, Kierkegaard. Moreover, the relationships between and the elegance of the dancers and the use of weight and line and slippered feet and partnering, and the flow of exits and entrances and more, created a world that perhaps has not fallen or at least not very badly from the ‘ideal’ at all.

”Sechs Tanze” (Six Dances) choreographed by Jiri Kylian to six dance pieces by Mozart continues the four couples theme established in "Without Words." The program, however, lists under the category of Megastars five additional cast members. Complete with over-powdered wigs, "Sechs Tanze" is a humorous send up of 18th century decorum. The dance replaces elegance and restraint with awkwardness and excess. The over made up faces, slapstick violence, and the clear references to the lustful appetites, i.e. two males; one perched on the shoulders of another yet looking like one monster behind a female’s bodice type prop -a la "Petite Morte" -- voraciously eats an apple while murderously whirling a fencing blade, turns "Sechs [easily anglicized into ‘sex’] Tanze" into a Sadean orgy. Whether it means to liberate or warn, “Sechs Tanze” exposes the dark appetites embedded within human desire to lampooning light.

Edited by Jeff.

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