because the personal is cultural
C’est un spectacle.
I don’t know why anyone would expect anything else when going to Place des Arts to witness Nederlands Dans Theater passing through Montreal for the first time in over twenty years. For the occasion, we were treated to a Crystal Pite sandwich on Sol León & Paul Lightfoot bread.
Sehnsucht opens and ends with a man bowing in a frog-like position at the front of the stage. In the background, a straight couple engages in a pas de deux in a cubic room. Like the needles of a clock, their legs and arms stretch out and rotate around a two-dimensional axis. Their movement is fast-paced while that of the man in the foreground is fluid but sculptural in its slowness and poses, as though time passed more slowly for those alone. The room spins vertically, so that the dancers sometimes appear to defy gravity like Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding, sitting on a chair that hangs from a wall, for example. The choreographers use this magical element to charm the public without pushing it to the point where it would transcend its gimmick.
The room disappears and thirteen dancers come out for the middle section. They dance synchronously in a manner that is reminiscent of Ohad Naharin’s Hora: the athletic bodies of the dancer maintain the legs of ballet (pirouettes included); however, while the upper bodies in Hora could be said to fall under a post-modern aesthetic, here they are more akin to music video choreography. (The synchronicity might partially be to blame for this.) The fast pace of the choreography follows along the gaudiness of Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 5, resulting in the kind of comic effect that the Looney Tunes capitalized on.
Canadian choreographer Pite offers the strongest piece of this triple bill with In the Event. Set against a grey sandy backdrop, eight dancers appear like a group on an expedition through the darkness of a foreign planet. The world around them feels potentially threatening, from their shadows moving along the walls of a cave to the rumbling on the soundtrack and the lightning that shatters the background. However, the dancers are in it together, cooperating as a group, sometimes literally forming a human chain with their limbs. The movement is elastic, round, and refreshingly ungendered. The dancers slide against the floor, sometimes even float above it. A solo provides the piece with a dramatic ending as a man’s hands frantically search the floor and reach for his chest and throat as if he were choking. For Pite, being alone looks like being lost.
León & Lightfoot fare better with Stop-Motion, a piece for seven dancers that is gothic-looking with its black background, white and beige pants, white walls, floor and powder, and black and white video projection. The dance is better served by Max Richter’s moody modern classical music. In solos and duos, the agility of the dancers is used to evoke emotion rather than being an end in and of itself like in Sehnsucht. However, the choreographers once again go for synchronicity for the group section; rather than intensifying the effect, it comes across as lazy and dilutes it. As the piece ends, some curtains are lowered while others after are lifted, and the lighting grid also comes down. There is the feeling that León & Lightfoot are doing this just because they can. With this triple bill, they show that they have the dancers and the means to make great art, but they fail to prove that they have the will.
November 1-5 at 8pm
514.842.2112 / 1.866.842.2112
has an MA in Film Studies and works in contemporary dance. His fiction has appeared in Headlight Anthology, Cactus Heart, and Birkensnake.
s.verstricht [at] gmail [dot] com