October 4, 2003 Royce Hall, Los Angeles
was an interesting exercise in contrasts for four dancers. The music,
J.S. Bach's Chaconne from his Partita in d for solo violin, started in
fits, providing stark contrast between silence, and the music's sometimes
jarring harmonies and sound, while the choreography kept going smoothly
despite the music. Moving to more subtle contrasts later, “Steptext” juxtaposes
modern, sharp gestures (closed fists with elbows locked at right angles)
with ballet port de bras, which transformed into more open, straight armed
gestures. For example, during one of the great counterpoint passages in
Bach's Chaconne, “Steptext” reflects the counterpoint of the foreground
dancers (a boy and girl) performing the expanded ballet vocabulary with
the corps of two boys doing the modern gestures. Think Balanchine's counterpoint
visualization, except with modern dance thrown in.
was a somewhat self-conscious performance versus rehearsal scenario, with
the expanded classical dance and music on stage interrupted by silences
and dancers performing non-classical choreography. I got the impression
of a rehearsal being interrupted by various external elements: an uncooperative
musician (or CD player), people with messages, choreography that didn't
quite work, etc.
The four dancers conveyed these contrasts very clearly and expressively
with an intent focus on the dance -- I couldn't take my eyes off them,
the beginning of “Steptext” especially difficult to follow because the
two groups of dancers were far apart! The choreography demands a great
deal of technique, and the dancers supplied it all effortlessly with especially
fluid movement and cat-like, silent landings. The dancing was about the
choreography instead of the technique, and given the difficulty of the
choreography, this is the highest praise I can give.
After “Steptext,” a video for which the Ballet Boyz are famous was projected
onto a screen at the back of the stage. Consisting of drolly edited home
video movies of the dancers getting lost, meeting and working with their
various choreographers, introducing their performance locations, and generally
having fun, the videos provided interesting insight into their daily lives.
Most interesting for me was seeing William Forsythe demonstrate his movement
to the dancers. Despite abbreviating the movement, Forsythe still managed
to be as expressive (or even more so) of the movement idea as the dancers.
Also perhaps reflective
of a general trend in choreography today, Christopher Wheeldon is shown
using a laptop with edited videos of the isolated elements of a piece
when creating a dance. At the post-show question-and-answer session, William
Trevitt and Michael Nunn, who say thay introduced Wheeldon to the joys
of computer-aided choreography, tell us that this can sometimes be a curse
as well as a blessing because Wheeldon will sometimes ask for something
to be done in reverse or at 200 percent speed after manipulating the video
on his computer!
Wheeldon's “Mesmerics” was up next after a short intro in the video segment.
Set to a suite of cello pieces (for an ensemble of 8 cellos) by Philip
Glass, Wheeldon introduces unique legato vocabulary for each piece in
the suite, ultimately combining them all near the end for the climatic
dance. Reminding me of Kylian's black and white pieces in the density
of movement, the emphases on mimicry of machines and mechanical images,
and the use of multiple couples at once with no solos, “Mesmerics” is
typical Wheeldon in its well-crafted and efficient choreography. Nothing
looked out of place, and the movement as well as stage placement all had
a polish and finish that says a lot about the care with which they were
made. Especially impressive to me was the expression of rhythm in the
fluid movement used. Again the dancers proved to be the equal of the choreography,
bringing a focus that made their interaction with one another work fluidly.
I'm reminded of Nederlands Dans Theater’s well-trained dancers who show
the same kind of commitment to Kylian's choreography. I think any choreographer
would be very lucky to have these dancers learn and perform their work.
After intermission came Russell Maliphant's “Torsion.” Introduced by the
video with the classic Monty Python line, "And now for something
completely different," “Torsion” came from the opposite side of the
world from the first two works. “Torsion” was a celebration of hard work
--- nothing looked easy in it, unlike ballet which is supposed to look
easy. “Torsion” starts off with Nunn and Trevitt separated on stage, performing
some gestures which are used again when they come together to perform
a series of back-breaking duets involving awkward balances, lifts, and
transitions. (I wonder if the obvious difficulty of “Torsion” was what
prompted one audience member to recommend in the Q-and-A session some
things the dancers could take to maintain and strengthen their joints
and tendons). The same intent focus seen earlier was now joined by a grim
determination to get the job done.
is like watching someone do something unenviable, very difficult, but
necessary. Perhaps watching the great pyramids being built may have been
analogous --- one wonders at the ingenuity, along with the very hard work,
it must have taken to build those monuments. Reflecting the theme of hard
work, costumes in “Torsion” were worn, loose denim shirts and pants with
frayed edges -- in contrast to the sleek, abstract tights and leotards
of the two previous pieces. Music was composed along with the choreography,
and was an electronic melange of sampled sounds set to a sometimes present
I really enjoyed watching the five dancers (Nunn, Trevitt, along with
Hubert Essakow, Oxana Panchenko, and Monica Zamora) with their obviously
deep technical facility, great commitment to the pieces, and unity and
empathy of dancing. That alone is enough for me to see them again and
recommend them to others. That they also choose dance pieces with intelligence
makes it a no-brainer to see them whenever they perform.
Edited by Jeff.
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