'Selections from Gesange op. 6,' 'Garden,' 'Petit Pas,' 'Faith in Spring,' 'On the Fritz'

by S. E. Arnold

October 6, 2003 -- Joyce SoHo, New York

Given in the intimate yet capacious and welcoming space at the Joyce SoHo, Sensedance presented an evening of five works choreographed by the company's artistic director Henning Rübsam.

A solo titled “Selections from Gesange op.6,” music by Brahms, opened the program and featured Rübsam as performer. Set to songs 1, 6, and 8 of the opus six cycle of songs, this brief trio of dances neatly introduced the aesthetic that characterized the evening's works as well as yielding a sense, if not the sense, of Sensedance. The choreography reflected both the melodic contour of the songs and, through its choice of gesture, the imagery of the lyrics. (The program included the lyrics for the three songs of Gesange and the two for the eponymous work titled "Litanei" and "Fruhlingsglaube" in German and English.) One found in the works of Rübsam an intent to fashion the meaning bearing features of music, text (when present), and gesture into an interlocking coherence.

"Garden," set to traditional Iraqi music, describes in six episodes a day in the lives of eight athletic garden spirits or nymphs. Costumed in either white or light gray peddle pushers and pastel orange sports bras, the eight ladies are appropriately dressed for the cartwheels, jumps, runs, lifting, and circle dances they are about to endure or execute. While there is little beyond the title to suggest a botanical setting, the languid music, the recumbent dancers positioned in intimate pairs about the stage, and the red lighting of section one suggest a dawn in a woodland grove envisioned by Bouguereau. In fact, the flat archaic poses and poses of linked figures that echo ancient conventions of boarder ornamentation encourage one's fanciful evocation of a mythical world of Nymphs and Fauns. (Fauns, however, never appear.)

With their morning ritual completed, the nymphs whirled into life. While marked by the combinations of dancers, a particular intensity of light, and a distinctive meter of the always-percussive rhythmic patterns of the music, the feature of episodes 2-5 that caught one's attention was the pace of change in the textural qualities within the episodes. For example, the countless entrances and exits that wrought additions, subtractions, and exchanges of dancers or sweeps within each episode gave "Garden" a turbo driven, frenzy of life look. Yet calm returned with the deep blue light of the last section. Signaling the end of day, the fading light turned the morning into the evening's ritual. Upon pairing and repairing to their places of rest in an echo of the opening scene, the once breathless nymphs went still.

As the radioactivity of the dance in "Garden" betrayed the rootedness and passivity suggested by the title, so too the studied awkwardness of the movement and the wonderfully obnoxious music betrayed the inherited aesthetic of Petipa or as rhymed by Rübsam: “Petit Pas.” Although it retains the form of a classical pas de deux, “Petit Pas” is a skillful exercise of inversion. Costumed alike, the hetero couple, danced by Henning Rübsam and Erika Pujic, wore velvety black bicycle pants and sweatshirt looking tops. They rolled on the floor and went bare foot. Pulverized perhaps by the endless press of the booming music of his variation, the fearful non-cavalier stuttered through his dance. And she, a warrior fresh from the Battleworks (Pujic is also a member of Robert Battle's company), attacked her petit allegro-ish solo -- set to the acid sound of what could have been an angry celesta's vengeful dream -- with the verve of a legion of furies. Lifts, neither for technical display nor symbolic rapture, served instead as a form of combat training. In fact, to show that at least she has ‘heart,' Pujic a la Elizabeth Streb runs up and then springs off a wall of the performance space into the arresting arms of Rübsam.

Two endings follow this (classically) dynamic coda. The first witnesses the exhausted couple collapsed and crawling on the floor. The second, following a brief black out, features the couple standing side by side facing the audience and looking troubled as the voice of Gloria Steinem forecasts a utopian, role-less world that affords distinction between neither human males nor females nor the larva of blue grass weevils. Ignoring, because of one's of suspicions of all utopian visions, the second ending, one rather naughtily reasons that the exhausted crawling collapse of the first ending suggests that “Petit Pas” describes a male's vision of the ultimate petit mort. In this sense, perhaps, “Petit Pas” isn't so different from a classical pas after all.

Announced only by the whisper of her sheath-type skirt, Eva Evdokimova wafted softly into the darkened performance space. The instant of light and music discovered the statuesque and contemplative Eva absorbed in Schubert's "Litanei." In resonant port de bras, for example, she shaped the solemnity of the text, and her subtle accommodations, her sensitivity to the thermals and shears of the music illustrated her celebrated musicality. Yet, the gusty "Faith in Spring," part two of this two part solo, set to the "Lieder" of Schubert, transformed this legendary Sylph and Giselle into a Firebird again. Eva crossed and re-crossed space with weightless effort or sliced the space about her slippered feet with flashing quickness. Dramatic, thoughtful, musical, and precise Eva Evdokimova, “prima ballerina assoluta,” soars still.

“On the Fritz,” set on the company of eight ladies and one Henning Rübsam, was a humorous medley of references to decades worth of popular culture. In fact, one moment -- via failing arms and costume -- reminded one of the 1950's show, American Band Stand. For this viewer, however, the quotation of the macarena transformed the nuttiness of the piece into a nightmare.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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