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Danish Dance Theatre

'Working Man', 'Insomnia', 'Kridt'

by Gunild Pak Symes

May 5, 2006 -- Folkteatret, Copenhagen

Danish audiences in Copenhagen this spring caught a glimpse of the choreographic genius that is Tim Rushton, the Danish Dance Theatre’s British-born director, blooming upon the main stage of Folketeatret (The People’s Theatre) that is the new home of this energetic group. Back from successful tours to positive reviews in North America, the Middle East and Australia, the emerging contemporary dance company has found its international legs. Young, weird, whacky and wily, the dancers performed three masterworks by Rushton to be toured as part of the company’s repertory in 2006-2007.

“Working Man”, first performed in Copenhagen in 2002, showcased the sinewy undulating movements and adept isolation skills of each dancer in the ensemble. Inspired by Rushton’s childhood memories of the Midlands, the industrial region of England known for its steel works and porcelain manufacturing,”Working Man” opens with a man miming work at a potter’s wheel, forming the sensual curves of a vase and letting imagination flow. The ensuing menagerie of arduous, off-road, not quite assembly-line movement, spiced with flirtations and office humour, belies a cunning sensitivity toward the primal tendencies of individuals in confined groups. Superior performances by Parisian, Marylise Tanvet-Schmidt, and Dane, Philip Schmidt, lead a talented ensemble through a quizzical yet often comical series of vignettes to the astute performance of lively rhythmic Balkan music by Mazel, the premier Klezmer orchestra in Denmark. Although grey upon grey, the costumes and interactive sets by Katrine Nilsen, give an efficient framework for the choreography, providing a sense of containment and allowing changes in visual textures.

Rushton’s new work, “Insomnia”, proved to be the gem of the evening, made more stunning by a fluid and profound performance by Italian soloist Luca Marazia. Uniquely driven by an effective and surreal installation studying the existential middle ground between sleep and waking, up and down, virtual and physical by Dutch installation artist Arthur Steijn and Danish set designer Signe Krogh, with eerie saturated lighting by Mikael Sylvest, the work evolved from video visualization of the spiritual music of Arvo Pärt to the demise of an insomniac caught in a three-dimensional interactive grid of white wires suspended in black space. Levitating dancers entered from above and moved though, over and under the grid, without touching so much as a hair in passing. Why they left the stage to Marazia’s lone figure was a mystery, but his compelling and technically brilliant performance more than made up for the questions left for us to ponder. Only ten minutes in length, the work is a striking haiku that stands well enough alone, but lends itself to further exploration.

Closing the evening was “Kridt” (Chalk). Awarded Denmark’s Reumert Award for Best Dance Performance in 2005, “Kridt” is a heart-wrenching portrayal of a man standing at the edge of his grave, balancing between life and death, his life and relationships flashing before our eyes, his story written in chalk chant on a black wall and on the floor, around his body, erased and spoken by the people in his life. Norwegian dancer Kenneth Carlsen played a much-beleaguered soul, with his long limbs stretched and draped as holy cloth upon an unseen crucifix. Much as the work was about a man’s life, strong performances of seamless transitions and kinetic prowess were given by three women of the group, including Swedish dancer Stina Mårtensson, Finnish-born Laura Lohi and Hilary Briggs of England. Inspired by the text of Ecclesiastes and set to a haunting score by Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, and performed live with depth and vigour by the Danish Radio Sinfionetta, “Kridt” starts out heavy and gets heavier as it progresses, at moments wandering as if lost in unknown territory, made worse by an overflow of smoky haze that obscured some performers, while taking us to a dark place deep in the heart. Rushton’s genius is in his ability to use strong visual imagery, musical sensitivity and theatrical finesse toward meaning. In the end, “Kridt” unfolds itself in the clearest visual poetry.

While the Danish Dance Theatre is still young and fresh, mixed in experience from recently honed raw talent to only just seasoned professionals who are still flexing the limbs of Rushton’s highly technical, emotive, quick and challenging choreography, there is much to look forward to as the troupe matures in strength, cohesiveness, breadth and personality.

This review was originally published in the July 2006 issue of DanceEurope.

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