writers on dancing


Water Music

Sasha Waltz, director/choreographer
BAM/Howard Gilman Opera House
Brooklyn Academy of Music
December 6, 2005
by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva

Somewhere in the middle of Sasha Waltz's 70 minute "Impromptus," named for the Schubert piano works to which it is set, several of the six dancers get mixed up, and in, powdered poster paint—orange-ish red and black. Its appearance is one of several theatrical tricks—you don't notice it until it is there, although it must have been imported somehow or other. The source of the water poured onto it is obvious, if strange: it comes from two pairs of boots. These entered on dancers, and being miked for sound, have filled the theater with gentle sloshing. Now, the water mixes with the paint and runs down the floor in rivulets. The stage is streaked with tears.
Water motifs, and shifts of tone. These are but two of the elements of the piece. The water motifs extend to washing in a pool, which appears suddenly, and splashing, and also the dancers washing the floor—or floors, the stage is cracked in two–with themselves, writhing and mopping with their bodies, and in the case of some of the women, their hair. The stage is occupied by two platforms set at angles to each other, the one on the left higher and sloping off to the left, the one on the right sloping sharply towards us. They suggest tectonic plates, the earth cracked up and open. At the back, pendant, is another such plate, lightly gilded, occupying most of the width of the floor(s), and subject to the touch of the dancers, who from time to time set it gently swinging. This is all very geographical, and suggests, for one thing, that the earth is someplace where we have to keep our balance.
"Impromptus" is a work entirely different from the last work Waltz showed here—"Korper," seen at BAM in 2002. That piece was largely theatrical, with a complicated set, also involving platforms and walls, and lots of business and acting and talking. In comparison, this piece was simple, and, to borrow a term from dancers, "dancey." This was a good thing, not because "Korper" wasn't interesting and memorable, but because Waltz is not repeating herself. She is not going to bring us work after work cluttered with ironing boards and cigarette lighters and hairbrushes and trapezes and fish tanks and dirt and evening gowns and men in undershorts smoking cigars, not to mention dialogue, however appealing those dance-theatrical elements might be to an audience grown fond of Pina Bausch's tanzteatrics. Waltz is related to Bausch, but she's also related to us. Her movement has a strong basis in the Trisha Brown style (she danced here with choreographer Lisa Kraus, who performed in Brown's company) and also in the dynamics of contact improvisation, as devised by Steve Paxton. It's novel to see these American inventions set down in the theatrical settings, and suggestions, of the Berlin based Waltz troupe. (Could there be a better name for a choreographer than Sasha Waltz?) And it works.
Except for the tone problem, and there is one. The elements of the light-hearted and the dark don't combine into anything like a whole world in this piece. Rather, they muddle each other. If I were looking for cause, I would look to the music—specifically, to the selection. Waltz has chosen from Schubert, contriving her own evening of song and piano music, with Christina Marton at the keyboard, and Judith Simonis, flame-haired and white-gowned, singing from the apron of the stage. First come three impromtus, then three lieder, then three more piano pieces. These are interspersed with rather long interludes of silence (and the sloshing or splashing, in two segments). While all of the Schubert is of course beautiful, the mix does not have a logical progression in terms of content or really, in mood, such as you might find in an actual song cycle. While it is possible Waltz was inspired by the lyrics, it isn't obvious. To my ear and eye, she seemed to follow the tone of the works, and their, as it were, weather. This lead to the inconsistency.
What was constant was the beauty, and it's this that made any uncertainties inconsequential. The six dancers, credited with dance/choreography, were Maria Marta Colusi, Clementine Deluy, Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola, Luc Dunberry, Michal Mualem, Claudia de Serpa Soares, and Xuan Shi, in various combination and in solo. (Munich based, but international.) The duets were divine, the partners utterly dependent on each other, though with shifts in power within their pairings. Novel means of support deriving from the rake of the stage, a  horizontal dancer as likely as a vertical.  Near the beginning, two of the men were so compelling that only after several moments—minutes?—did I notice two women doing the same dance, on the other platform. Even the water pool moments—kind of a Butoh hot tub event–featured ravishing Odalisques, their  backs gleaming. For this, the women were naked, but mostly the dancer were dressed, in shorts, in dresses, and one lace sheath, all muted in tone, devised by Christine Birkle. There was skin, but there wasn't really that thing we are getting so accustomed to lately—the body as costume, as canvas. This was about the body moving.
Whatever the dancers' contributions to the movement, Waltz can be credited with the overall scheme, and composition. She used her split stages variously. There were passages where there were two stages, with two different dances. There were passages where the dancers passed from one world, on one side, into another. And there were dances that took up the whole, as when the dancers ran from platform to platform, around the back, and out again. That was wonderful.  A fragmented world, with a constant battle for balance, and the possibility, and passing realization, of all the elements unified. And all in dim, ravishing light.

Volume 3, No. 46
December 12, 2005

copyright ©2005 Nancy Dalva



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last updated on December 12, 2005