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Flirty: Danish Dance Theatre’s Silent Steps.

Boundless Energy

 

By Mae G. Banner

Danish Dance Theatre

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 29

Fresh and bubbly as a sunlit fountain, the dancers of the Danish Dance Theatre couldn’t stop smiling as they performed Silent Steps (2005), Tim Rushton’s modern ballet to J. S. Bach’s cembalo concertos performed on the harpsichord. This was one of two U.S. premieres, dances made since the group’s last appearance at Jacob’s Pillow in 2004.

Lanky blond men and sprite-like women danced the flirty choreography with lithe feet and faces that radiated appreciation at being in each other’s company. The whole dance conveyed youth, unbounded energy and humor that spilled over into grins on the faces of the audience at the Pillow last Saturday.

Even moves like dragging women across the floor—which I tend to decry on sight—were done in such good spirits that you had to enjoy them along with the dancers. The women were not victims, here, but eager players in a light-hearted game. Held from behind and by the waist, the women slid their feet flat along the floor or extended their legs in a wide split, then let their legs flow in and out as they sailed in their partners’ grasp.

The British-born, ballet-trained Rushton has been director of the 25-year-old Danish Dance Theatre since 2001. His dancers are nicely attuned to each other and clearly committed to the work, which combined passages of formal partnering with everyday gestures and long, loopy arm-phrases that could be signals in a private language.

These phrases, sometimes suggesting stitching in the air with invisible yarn, were passed from one dancer to another in lovely repeats that were fun for the audience to recognize.

Rushton made Bach’s music visible by sometimes placing a line of dancers upstage in shadow, where they moved minimally, like the bass continuo that drones beneath the lilting movement of the melody, while the leading couple danced with baroque courtesy, their arms and legs like feathered arrows.

Allusions to court dances, such as just the shadow of formal bows, were exploded with big, stage-covering runs, an open-hearted move that Paul Taylor introduced in Esplanade, but Rushton’s odd arm-phrases and his crashes and rolls were his own.

If Silent Steps represented the sunny side of the Danish national character, Kridt (2005) showed the darker, Hamlet side. Set to a string quartet by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, Kridt (chalk) is the third part of a trilogy on human loneliness.

Again, the dancers’ faces were an essential part of the choreography. This time, their expressions were relentlessly grim. Dancers entered one at a time to write with white chalk on a black wall or on the floor, inscribing lines from Ecclesiastes in huge, but spindly letters. What one dancer wrote, the next would erase by rubbing his or her body over the graffito as the dancer slid across the space.

A dancer on his back might cover ground by kicking his legs. Another raised his shoulders in a shudder, then contracted several times from the gut, bending over as if suffering cramps. Dancers traced each other’s outlines with their arms from behind, or, when a dancer seemed pinned to the wall, traced the outline with chalk, so the stage began to look like a crime scene.

With willowy Marylise Tanvet-Schmidt in the lead, the men began to tear at their shirts and the women to strip off their dresses as they danced a passage of desperation. Arms twittered; bodies fell heavily. Finally, a man jackknifed his body upright as a rain of chalk powder poured over him from the ceiling, whitening his face. The others gathered to him, set him on the ground and traced their fingers around his fallen body—a chilling end to a wracked dance.

Passion Dance

Eva Yerbabuena Ballet Flamenco

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 29

Eva Yerbabuena is true to her art. While practitioners of “flamenco nuevo” tart up the form with snazzy costumes and glitzy production values, Yerbabuena simply—stunningly—dances. It is enough.

At Jacob’s Pillow last Saturday, Yerbabuena danced a traditional suite of Andalusian flamenco that included a flowing Granaina and a deeply moving Solea. Between these twin apogees, we heard effortful, close-throated singing from Enrique Soto, Pepe de Pura, and Rafael de Utrera, and saw spare, unvarnished unison dancing by Luis Miguel Gonzalez, Eduardo Guerrero and Mercedes de Cordoba. Music throughout was by guitarists Paco Jarana and Manuel de la Luz, with percussionist Manuel Jose “Pajaro” Munoz on conga and cajon.

Yerbabuena, 36, grew up in Granada, Spain. She has been dancing professionally since she was 15 and premiered Eva, couched as a memory of her life in flamenco, in 1998. It is raw, unadorned and timeless.

She danced the Granaina in a dress with tiers of white ruffles that cascaded into a long train and a white shawl with two rows of long silky fringe. She would kick the train into an arc as she moved, so that it seemed alive, a part of her spiraling body. As she whirled, the fringe was like a spume of water spraying around her. When she stopped, en punto, she was a powerful sculpted figure.

The Granaina stabbed with sudden discoveries of the wrist or hand, and up thrust arms. Only deep into the dance did Yerbabuena lift her skirt above the ankle to let her heels work a tattoo while her shoulders rose and fell.

After the white Granaina, the Solea was earthy, elemental, like digging deep into the soil. Yerbabuena, dressed in black, entered. As she slowly raised, then lowered her arms, the other dancers deferred to her, leaving the stage, one by one.

The dance made me remember an LP from my undergraduate days, The Joys and Sorrows of Andalusia. When my roommate heard the guitars, she said, “But, where are the joys?”

Not here. Yerbabuena lifted her chin, snapped her arms up behind her head, made her fingers into crowns, and began to prowl the stage, writhing and crouching, first slowly, but with increasing frenzy, opening her palms, rotating her wrists, bursting into speedy rhythms with her heels, then deliberately stopping, walking, and turning away.

As the singers goaded her, she would take a sudden turn, her body seemingly not under her control. At the very apex of the dance, she sank into her hips, her body sobbing. She whirled. A red flower fell from her hair. She strutted, her chin high, her legs crossing g in front as if bowed. The theater reverberated as she sped offstage, pursued by invisible demons.

—Mae G. Banner


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