D.C. DanceWatcher

Letter from the Pillow: International Relations

Posted in Ballet, Contemporary ballet by lisatraiger on August 9, 2007

“Para-Dice” and “Loin”
Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve
Ted Shawn Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow
Becket, Mass.
August 2, 2007

By Lisa Traiger

Copyright © 2007 by Lisa Traiger

Wholly felt physicality in a pair of profoundly moving works danced with exquisite acumen by the Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve, marked the 45-year-old company’s auspicious American debut. While ballet in Geneva dates to the early 19th century, for its first foray on these shores, the company, under the astute artistic direction of Philippe Cohen, brought a pair of works by contemporary choreographers little-known on these shores. Cohen, Moroccan born, French- and American-trained, requires of his 22-plus dancers classical ballet training. Yet they approach moving with a full-bodied sensibility, an inherent understanding of weight and weightedness and of melting into the floor seamlessly, a skill which is second nature to modern dancers. Geneva’s dancers also exhibit a smooth, creamy quality that the women especially favor in the way their feet in soft slippers pliantly pad and caress the floor. The men, too, demonstrate a languorous, taffy-like flexibility and an easy, bump-free ability to carry their partners in complex lifts and supports.

In Saburo Teshigawara’s “€œPara-Dice,”€ the Japanese choreographer is at play in the most exalted sense of the word, artistically. The title itself calls upon wordplay in its suggestion of both luck or chance and a utopian abode of some sort. There’€™s serious play in the way Teshigawara utilizes dynamics. As he states in a program note, “Dance is a sculpture of air, space and time. I dance to make time disappear, and I dance to create time.”€ The work with its synthesized score that ebbs and flows, percussion joining in, along with organ-like crescendos, waterfalls and soft rains, and a flute-like glass harp, carries the dancers in a shifting movement landscape.

The women in Teshigawara’€™s buttery yellow translucent skirts, and creamy knitted sweaters, strike angular semaphoric poses, a bodily manifestation of an ancient hieroglyphic or a workaday Morse code. Their arms at first angular, all pointed elbows and flexed wrists, later curve recalling the easy arcs of cursive letter M’s. The men, in sheer black t-shirts and plain black slacks, join in, legs swinging like pendulums, arms carving arcs in space, bodies lunging forward. A silky liquidity follows Teshigawara’€™s gentle coursing approach as the eight dancers, in partnerships, entwine and unwind, in deft configurations. “Para-Dice” has its quicksilver moments, its virtuoso duets, dancers wrapped and knotted around one another, but its defining presence remains in its softly easy continuity, the sense of ongoingness the dancers maintain in maneuvers through the shifting flavors and tempos. Loose limbed and rangy, they decelerate to a barely perceptible stillness, then up to speed again, loping, breath audible, punctuating the environment before a final soft lullaby-like rustle and a fade into the wind.

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s “€œLoin,” or “€œFar”€ in English, offers a different but companionable journey with “Para-Dice.” Cherkaoui, who works in Belgium, describes himself as “half-Moroccan, half-Flemish,” and his binationalism fits nicely into this company whose members represent a dozen nations and nearly as many languages. The opening image, two men, foreheads pressed against each other, gesticulating madly, begins a choreographic journey that travels great distances. Yet in remaining true to soul of this work: the split personality of intimacy and dislocation, emblematic of living in the 21st-century global society, stands on its own as a study in episodic movement motifs.

But beyond the motifs and the gentle, swift creaminess, the dancers — clad in Isabelle Lhoas’€™s swaths of fabrics, sometimes a hint of a kimona or a djellaba or a hanbok, in earthy tones with jewel-toned highlights — embrace connections and partings. Wim Van de Cappelle’s setting —€“ panels of cloths surrounding the stage through which the dancers enter and exit — provide, too, that sense of dislocation as dancers merge and veer onto and away from the space as if on a continually moving sidewalk. As the work evolves, Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s score from the “€œMystery Sonatas,” accompanying, it becomes impossible and exactly the point not to know who is coming and going. Brief spoken word monologues highlight the theme dissociation and foreign-ness. A section spoken in exacting English (in Geneva the section is typically spoken in French) with accompanying exacting gestures describes the difficulties the company encountered while touring in China. From the jetlag to the cockroaches to a missing tutu and formidably raked stage, dancing abroad on tour becomes a chore and a challenge to overcome.

Yet then the dancers magically melt together — a community amid the strangeness of their predicament. A second monologue by Yanni Yin spoken in Chinese highlights the flip side of being a stranger in a strange land. When Alma Munteanu takes the stage and singes in her native Romanian, the poignant longing, the homesickness in her voice need no translation. Cherkaoui’€™s work, clocking in at more than 40 minutes, builds a rich tapestry of gesture and monologue drawn from the dancers’ own intimate experiences of being strangers abroad and longing for home. “Loin’€™s” evocative and deeply felt moments reach an epiphany of communal nurturing that values the group over the individual. In a work that bridges divides and crosses borders, the company gives an exceptional rendering of these choreographically drawn ideas. One hopes, too, that this engagement is a bridge for Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve to return to these shores in coming seasons with equally evocative works.

Copyright Lisa Traiger 2007

Published August 10, 2007