writers on dancing


Proximate Contrasts

Danses Concertantes
Variations pour une Porte et un Soupir, Circular Motion, Liturgy, Hallelujah Junction
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
October 19-23, 2004

Side B, Shoku
The Place Theatre
October 19, 20, 2004

Les Arts Florissants & Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu
Les Paladins
Barbican Theatre
October 19-22, 2004

By John Percival
copyright © 2004 by John Percival

After a period with not much happening, the London dance scene suddenly erupted into congestion during late October. Among the visiting companies, there were high hopes for the group of 17 dancers from New York City Ballet who came to Sadler’s Wells under the title Danses Concertantes. Previous visits by this and similar groups met much acclaim, but this time the troupe’s joint directors, dancer-choreographer Benjamin Millepied and Danish dance critic Alexander Meinertz, had not chosen so well. In spite of having four works, all new to London and by four different choreographers, the total effect was too much the same throughout, thin and lacking brilliance. Part of the problem may have been a financial need to stay with two instruments for accompaniment: pianos and violin—or, in one case, a door and a sigh.

You will gather that London was at long last shown George Balanchine’s two-person presentation to musique concrète by Pierre Henry, created 1974 and never before (we are told) given outside New York. It should have stayed that way. Understandable that NYCB exhumed it for the choreographer’s centenary celebrations, but then it should have been buried again. To bring such a bizarre, gawky duo for this kind of programme was daft, and I cannot even join in the praise for Maria Kowroski as the door/woman—someone more mature is needed, surely? Tom Gold made more of the kinky choreography than she did, but Balanchine’s response to this score compares feebly with Maurice Béjart’s.

Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto are great dancers, and it was good to be reminded how many ways he can wrap her supple body round his bulky strength, but the duet which Christopher Wheeldon has made for them, “Liturgy”, to Arvo Part’s unclimactic “Fratres” music, looked to me too much like an outcut from earlier, more substantial ballets.

Mr Millepied contributed a world premiere, “Circular Motion”. This set four men moving to piano music by Daniel Ott (itself a response to Steve Reich’s “Pieces of Wood”). Largely solos, it was casual, lively, occasionally inventive, and confidently danced by Jared Angle, Craig Hall, Amar Ramasar and Alexander Ritter. Yet it proves completely unmemorable.

So, mostly, is Peter Martin’s showpiece finale to John Adams’s “Hallelujah Junction”, with its four supporting couples around sinuous Janie Taylor and Sébastien Marcovici in the duet and Mr Millepied (busy man!) suitably flashy in his solos. Some press comments suggested that the show might give an idea what the home company of New York City Ballet looks like—but oh dear no.

I would not have expected a small group from Japan to provide more enjoyment than Danses Concertantes, but they did. The director Ikuyo Kuroda is a newcomer, and an interesting one: ballet-trained but very original and modern-minded. Now 28, she started her company Batik two years ago and quickly won an international competition with her group dance for six women, “Side B”. That and a solo version for herself of “Shoku” (also a group dance) made up her London programme. Both works featured aspects of hiding and revelation. For the opening of “Side B” a red curtain hid the cast except for their lower extremities; later they let their long hair cover their faces, or lifted their red-lined black skirts or tops to conceal their heads but show their black undies.

Something not altogether dissimilar happened in “Shoku” (red dress, white undies), where she used hand-held torches too. Both dances were punctuated by black-outs and pauses. For movement, Ms Kuroda seems fond of percussive stamping, and the floor patterns were mostly straight lines, backstage to front or vice versa. There was much heavy thrashing around on the floor, and a sequence with one dancer pushed or poked by the others. She made jokes—one woman for instance repeatedly losing her skirt—and introduced pained facial expressions or laughter. The sort of musical miscellany you might get by switching a classical radio programme on and off (solos and orchestral, ancient and modern) provided a lively background. Each of the dances lasted a full half-hour, but I found myself never bored.

Batik deserves to be seen more widely; so does “Les Paladins”, another complete contrast and an even bigger hit (all these in three successive days). It’s a new production of Jean-Philippe Rameau’s last-but-one opera-ballet, originally created 1760 at the Académie royale de musique, predecessor of the present Paris Ballet and Opera companies. The revival, a joint production by the Chaâtelet, Paris, and Barbican, London, was performed by conductor William Christie with the chorus and orchestra of Les Arts Florissants, solo singers, and the dancers and acrobats of the Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu from Créteil.

José Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu have developed a wonderful way of using film and computer graphics to let their dancers perform with animals (lions, elephants, rabbits, peacocks etc.) and themselves to transform wholly or partly into beasts and birds, also to dance with their own likenesses, to arrive or depart in two-dimennsional trains, and to be moved instantaneously to new quarters.

Add in dances ranging from classical point-work to spins on the head, from African bum-wriggling to incredibly high and sustained flights on a trampoline, not to mention lively group numbers cheerfully joined by the singers. “Les Paladins” (“The Knights Errant”) actually has hardly any plot—just a heroine rescued from cruel guardian by her lover and a bisexual fairy—but this danced treatment of the opera makes nearly three hours pass like a joy.

First:  Maria Kowroski and Tom Gold in Balanchine's "Variations for a Door and a Sigh." Photo:  Paul Kolnik
Second:  Batik in Shoku.
Third:  Les Paladins
Volume 2, No. 40
October 25, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by John Percival


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last updated on October 25, 2004