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Leine & Roebana

'Sporen' ('Traces')

by Carmel Morgan

April 19, 2008 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC

On April 19, 2008, the Dutch contemporary dance company Leine & Roebana performed at Dance Place in Washington, DC.   The company got its start in 1989 when duo Andrea Leine and Harijono Roebana began choreographing together.  They are known for working closely with musicians and composers, but unfortunately, their troupe danced without live music in DC.  It’s expensive to travel from the Netherlands to the United States, and having musicians in tow was, understandably, not in the budget.

The company, which is extremely enthusiastic about its American tour, presented “Sporen” {[Traces”], a work that premiered in November, 2003. at the Holland Dance Festival in The Hague.  “Sporen” is performed by seven dancers with music for strings, piano, and voice, and includes several commissioned compositions.  Certainly, live music would have enhanced the production, but it was nevertheless a very powerful performance.

“Sporen” is a complex, multi-layered work.  Thankfully, the costumes, lighting, and music don’t distract from the dancing, but support it.  The costumes are simple, sleek, and change frequently, from black to gray to white to hints of tan, midnight blue, and moss green.  It’s like seeing the paint from an art gallery gather, mix, and take flight before your eyes.  The lighting works wonders by revealing the hidden pinkish-brown swirls in the backdrop and drawing attention to the dusky shadows on the pale floor, which move in partnership with their dancers.  The music, sometimes jarring and sometimes soft, successfully connects the disparate sections of “Sporen.”  Also noteworthy are the audible exhalations of the dancers that augment the soundscape.

Most dancers are goodlooking, of course, but the members of Leine & Roebana are particularly so.  The four women and three men are breathtakingly lovely, and credit must be given to the choreography, costumes, and lighting for bringing out their incredible beauty.  The theater space was transformed not only by the attractive bodies but by the abundance of white/cream/beige – from the unusually colored Marley floor to the rectangular textured backdrop that looks like a cross between an old Irish sweater and handmade paper.

“Sporen” is a challenge to absorb.  It’s as intellectually weighty as it is pretty to watch.  The dancers’ oft-covered feet slide smoothly across the floor.  They move with intensity, from the core, exhibiting an emotionally gripping physical clarity that supersedes the cool distance elicited by some of the modern choreography.  There are movement themes – unnerving undulations that wave the spine, outstretched arms at 12 and 3 o’clock, wide-legged swoops, and arresting extensions.  Throughout the work, to crashes of noise, the dancers strike frozen poses, and the lights go dim, making dark sculptural figures for short bursts of time.  The dancers seem to move not of their own free will, but via compulsion.

At one point, a lone female reaches an arm outward, pointing into the air.  Her tilted head rests atop her extended arm, accompanied by an uncanny stare – half-insipid, half-knowing.  This gesture epitomizes the inscrutability of “Sporen.”  When one of the women throws herself into the arms of one of the males at the end, surprisingly to the twang of a country music tune, one can’t help but think, “Huh?”  Program notes mention that the choreography springs from this single line of thought: “How do we relate to our bodies in a technologically mediated society, and what does that imply for the dancer and the art of dancing?”  The dancing is athletic, pure, and technically precise; the dancers comely; and the atmosphere agreeably mysterious.  However, the answers to the questions posed are elusive.  The ultimate message of “Sporen” is perhaps purposefully indecipherable, causing one to want to see it all over again.

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