Performing Arts: Dance
October 11, 2016
The nature of Fall for Dance programming is introductory, a sampler, a tease… so it was completely unexpected when Netherlands Dance Theater torpedoed our senses, our bodies, and our minds with Woke Up Blind by Marco Goecke, a new work that was sandwiched between more conventional fare on the fifth and final Fall for Dance program.

Goecke’s choreography created what felt like a new, alternative universe, with a fierce movement vocabulary that looked like no other. Reflecting and amplifying the intensity of the music by Jeff Buckley – a rock, funk, skat fusion – he deftly avoided the awful temptation to either slavishly mimic or entirely ignore the lyrics; instead his dancers wrap themselves in and around and through every note and breath in the music with Goecke’s intricate, rapid-fire movements. Hands and arms that shake so fast they blur, and wildly flexible backs, spines, and joints that move in unpredictable ways with a blazing speed and precision, are embedded within a series of solos, duets, and groups in a choreographic structure that, together with the music, make sense out of the off-the-charts frenzy. One duet was such a precise and intense embodiment of Buckley’s skat that audible gasps were heard in the audience.

After dancing at a higher decibel than we thought humanly possible, a dancer will stand for a long time, just looking at us: no attitude, just being. Bits of humor surface – the stillness of a classical pique arabesque could morph into a different kind of extension, monster hands with spread-eagle fingers, tense, like switchblades. The next instant, the dancer briskly disappeared offstage, monster hands swinging, after loudly hissing at a partner of just moments ago. What just happened? Before you can answer, the next exchange attracts your attention like a magnet, each episode adding to the whole. The NDT dancers are a gorgeously sculpted species – ripped torsos with the flexibility, agility, and the slippery yet nuclear intensity of an electrified snake in a thunderstorm. A strange satisfaction emerges from witnessing their musical precision, communion, and their wild self-possession.

It was a hard act to follow, and even consummate artists like Alessandra Ferri and Herman Cornejo had trouble salvaging what felt like a sadly flaccid duet by Wayne McGregor, after the high intensity roller-coaster of NDT. Nonetheless, any opportunity to see these two dancers has its rewards – their tenderness of their duet conveyed the knowing steadiness of mature love. The Taiwanese dance troupe Cloude Gate 2 followed, with a similar challenge: it was difficult to shake the feeling of cliché during what seemed an interminable amount of time, another group of lovely yet subdued dancers swaying, swirling, moving in unison, in the low pliés of modern dance. Although inspired by Taiwanese street dance according to the program, it felt more like a journey through a meditative garden, without an exit.

The evening opened strongly with Shantala Shivalingappa’s Shiva Tarangam, a devotional Kuchipudi solo in southern Indian classical style. Shivalingappa is a superbly gifted dancer, whose clarity of movement in the architectural poses etched her body in space. With the intricacies of her hands and feet punctuated by her intensely agile and readable eyes, Shivalingappa can entrance even the most uncommitted observer. Perfectly in tune with her excellent live musicians, she later danced around the stage while standing on a copper plate. We felt the ups and downs of the complex narrative she weaves, and even if we don’t know exactly what it is, we know that Shiva must be pleased.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Nicole Duffy Robertson

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