to see work that makes good on its goals, but a little disappointing
when the goals aren’t all that profound. Rebound, by
Conny Janssen Danst, is one such show, performed last week
in the Doris Duke Studio Theatre at Jacob’s Pillow.
addresses how we acquire and relinquish power, but coasts
for too long on the ingenuity of its visual elements. That’s
mostly forgivable, because this work is handsome. Its dancers,
all men, are chiseled and a little scruffy; the set recalls
a high-end Italian sofa; and the musical score incorporates
work by Aphex Twin and Keren Ann. Everything feels clean,
and yet ready to be soiled. If you didn’t know this dance
was made in the Netherlands, you might have guessed it in
Janssen, the group’s artistic director and choreographer,
is from Rotterdam, where her company was founded in 1992.
Like another citizen of Rotterdam, architect Rem Koolhaas,
Janssen has a knack for synthesizing unlikely elements. In
Rebound, her movement slickly merges contorted ballet
with stuff you might’ve done the last time you were at a club.
Turn your head and scratch behind one ear. Try to shake your
ass. Stare at the ground and wait to get rejected, or to reject
has the most striking set of the Pillow’s summer so far. Designed
by Thomas Rupert, this thing is enormous, and, at first, a
little claustrophobic. Its three separate walls, ten feet
high, are covered in countless bolts of white vinyl, for the
effect of quilted upholstery. The longest wall, at the stage’s
back, has two large cubbyholes, while running through the
two perpendicular walls are several horizontal slabs at head-
the work’s opening, the speakers emit a slow, electronic shoosh.
Two men huddle inside their cubbies, while others stare at
each other from across the way, mumbling incoherent, possibly
insulting things. “Padded room” must hold the same connotation
in Europe as it does here, because these guys look fit to
be committed. Then, the tallest dancer—Dutch people are tall!—makes
a slow descent from his window. Using a few toes, he gently
brushes the floor, testing things out. Once there, he waves
his hands in front of his face, testing his own perception.
Meanwhile, another wiry fellow, a Spaniard, watches from his
slab’s high perch, munching from a plastic container of dried
fruit. Like the movement, which deals here with one idea at
a time, the score is quiet for now, committing to only a few
instant, when the lights turn purple, the vinyl doubles as
an enormous canvas, and soon, as the walls turn green, the
music grows to a roar, whereupon all five break into fantastic
unison. Later, when a dancer stops to glare at his mates,
everything glows the red of a seedy bar. And for a duet full
of lean aggression, the walls hum in a golden, empathetic
yellow. Such effects are key to developing sensory impact.
In another, occasional lighting cue, a grid of tiny diamonds
scans slowly across the back wall. The effect is exciting
and a little scary, like finding yourself at night beneath
a police helicopter’s roving spotlight.
the trampoline. It’s built into the back wall, and, in its
first (fairly late) appearance, it magically slides forward
to catch a dancer who has moved to sit on nothing. They do
some fun stuff with it, as when two facing men lock arms and
launch into revolving, double-helix leaps. The designers have
thought to mike the trampoline, so that every landing makes
a springy, slightly revolting crash, and the slightest foot-shuffle
feels consequential. For better or worse, the choreography
doesn’t overdevelop the trampoline’s presence, and you’re
left to wonder if it’ll return. (It doesn’t.)
there’s not much here on which to hang a thesis. After a false
ending—to a selection from Aphex Twin’s melancholy Drukqs
album—three men watch as one harasses another, who can’t figure
out what the fuss is. In a combative but loving way, he declines
to engage his aggressor. Soon, the two are sitting side by
side, each gently forcing one shoulder in front of his mate’s,
as in, “No, I’m more macho.” But other humorous sequences
require more indulgence. By now, the choreography no longer
feels inventive, just fashionable.
before the work’s conclusion—in which the guys return to their
original, cubbyholed mumbles—the opening dancer realizes the
fun in being relaxed, and invents a sweetly post-modern version
of the hustle or the electric slide. He reels in fish, points
like a matador (here the Spanish fellow grunts “Olé”), slaps
his butt, plays a drum set. Things really get going when they
all join in. But soon enough, they’re back to apathy and distrust.
Man, I know the feeling.