Performing Arts: Dance
January 22, 2019
Netherlands Dans Theater 2 has evolved into a full-fledged company of young talent with its own repertory, and the level of the dancing is so high, they now perform on their own at New York’s City Center Theater. The work as a whole, by different choreographers, has a distinct feel: rapid-fire, detached, yet often in your face – with uneven results.

A hard-driving score by Milko Lazar (PErpeTuumOvia, with percussive pianos and cellos) set the pace for the evening’s most interesting work: Edward Clug’s “mutual comfort,” which created its own world through the dancers’ finely tuned bodies moving though changing textures, from sharp, quick movements to silky smooth undulations. In a playful contrast to the somewhat relentless music, two men and two women danced alone, in couples, and sometimes in threes, with clear energy transferring from one body to the other like an electric current. Small head circles, body ripples, and melting, brief pauses are woven between brisk angular gestures. There was a youthful feel to the exchanges, like young people curiously testing each other, befriending, prodding, playing, and instigating something in each other, only to change their minds and move on to the next thing.

Marco Goecke made a fantastic impression with his work “Woke Up Blind” a few years ago; this time, his signature movement, full of constant, rapid-fire speed, precision and intensity, was deployed to lesser effect than when it singularly paralleled the unpredictable voice of Jeff Buckley. Goecke has created a recognizably distinct dance language: his quirky, jerky, sometimes animalistic micromovements and shapes in the arms and torsos, with moments of frantic repetition, make it almost unbearably intense. This time, though, it seemed to matter little that either Schubert, Schnittke, or the music of the alternative rock banc Placebo was propelling the movement, diminishing its overall impact.

NDT 1 director Sol Léon’s mercurial pregnancy hormones provided the impetus for her and co-director Paul Lightfoot’s bizarre “Sad Case” (1998). A tall, lanky woman in a light grey leotard and white-powdered body streaked with what looked like black ash or war paint posed upstage like a broken doll. The classic shrill whistle provoked on the streets by a beautiful woman (in a bygone era, of course) pierced the air. Unmoved, she nonetheless swiveled and kicked her way downstage, with sharp arm gestures and deadpan delivery, seemingly indifferent to the feel-good mambo music by Pérez Prado.

Others soon join her, a small militia of the Walking Dead meets the Copa on steroids, in a series of solos and duos with lots of gyrating butts, crotch-grabbing, shouting, and exaggerated goofy facial contortions that go from funny to boring. Even as these gorgeous dancers made liquid silver of the movement, what purported to be a satirical take on any number of tropes associated with Latin big band music and other stereotypes lost its edge and went on for too long.

Lightfoot and Léon “Sh-Boom!” (2000), to popular music from the Mills Brothers and others, began with the fabulous Surimu Fukushi dressed in a tux, entering in slow-motion while the audience was still coming in. Walking backwards, fake smiling, grimacing while dancing, and exiting, he then repeated the whole sequence several times. A series of loosely connected, Pina Bausch-like theatricals scenes included four women in black dresses with high collars use flashlights to light a naked man, who flirts with revealing his private parts to them, and a duet where a man stripped to his underwear dancers pleadingly while she remains modestly covered and aloof.

The movement is mostly smooth and pleasant, punctured by their love of facial contortions and kooky behavior. A smoky stage, dropping confetti, dancing with tissues in their mouths, how all of this connects, and how it is inspired by Goya’s Black and White sketches – “The dream of reason produces monsters…” (misquoted in the program) – is more of a mystery. The choreographers could have taken the rest of the quote more literally: “united with reason imagination is the mother of all art and the source of all its beauty.”
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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