Say what you will about Sasha Waltz, you can’t call her predictable. Dancers and choreographers love a flat, sprung stage. She gives her dancers a dual platform: a white trapezoid raked from mid-stage to stage right, and another stage left raked from back-to-front, slightly underlapping the former. A third trapezoid, this one beige, hangs vertically, set to swinging back and forth for much of the dance. The piece she presented at BAM’s Next Wave Festival was aptly titled “Impromptus,” since the dancers seem to act on an eccentric impulse.
But Waltz is following the Balanchinian model, since five Schubert “Impromptus” (Opus 90, numbers 1-4, plus Opus 142, No. 1. if you’re keeping score at home) form the heart of the score. These pieces, elegantly performed by Romanian pianist Cristina Marton, are very familiar (even if their titles are not), and therefore a challenge to the choreographer: make the familiar new. The score also includes Schubert’s “An Mignon,” Op. 19/2 and three lieder, “Des Mädchens Klage,” “Der Wanderer an den Mond,” and “Der Doppelganger,” sung by the raven-haired German mezzo Judith Simonis. One Impromptu and one song are performed without dancing; several dance passages are performed in silence. The rest are performed with no special honor to conventions of dance or choregraphic niceties.
Waltz also honors the Balanchine model in early parts of the work, with movement that amplifies and illuminates the music, based freely on classical techniques. At other times, she honors her mentors in the German “Tanztheater” movement, personified by Pina Bausch. Later in the evening, for instance, the dancers take up what seems to be finger paints and slather colors over each other and the floor. At this point neo-DADA takes over. Two women strip and bathe in a pool of water, previously hidden from the audience. They throw stunning arcs of water behind two colleagues who dance a beautiful, pas de deux. Curtain.
Brief (not much over an hour) but concise, “Impromptus” reflects a highly fertile dance intelligence. Waltz can produce “pure dance” or she can produce pure “theatre”; she can stir laughter or tears or just a sense of mystery. Her multi-culti company (not one of whom is German!) performs with tremendous dedication and energy. But her principled refusal to have a “proper” Beginning and End denies the audience of a sense of emotional satisfaction. The night I attended, the response was highly appreciative but not overwhelming. I could not help noticing that there were far more vacant seats than usual for a Next Wave offering. It may have been the weather (bitter cold) or the season (there’s a Target next door) or just the fact that Waltz has yet to develop a New York following. But I suspect that, if she is asked back, it will be for a smaller venue.