Thursday, July 13, 2023

Vertiginous Thrills at the Pillow

Young Gyu Choi and Riho Sakomoto
 in Variations for Two Couples.
Photo by Christopher Duggan
Dutch National Ballet brought a widely varied slate of repertory to Jacob’s Pillow this month, proving that its wonderful dancers can handle the most devilish ballet technique, from classical to modern. Resident choreographer Hans van Manen was represented by Variations for Two Couples, Five Tangos, and the previously unannounced Solo, which turned out to be perhaps the most appealing work on the bill. Additionally, Wubkje Kuindersma’s Two and Only, William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique were performed.

Van Manen’s imprint can be found in ballet repertories around the world, and he has spent large blocks of time at Nederlands Dans Theater and DNB. His choreography is notable for its precision, dramatic breadth, playfulness and humor, all of which emerged in his Pillow rep. Solo, actually performed by three men in purple chemises, lets the dancers ham it up, goading the audience with spread arms and ta-das. They leap high, move faster than you might think possible, and take turns vying for best-liked. How to choose?

Qiam Liu and men in Five Tangos. Photo: Christopher Duggan

Variations (2012) presents the more analytic, sculptural side of van Manen. In lustrous, dark-hued unitards, pairs show some of the choreographer’s signature moves—precise partnering, pencil turns, scissoring legs, heads bobbling. One of the four songs is by Astor Piazzolla, whose music provides the foundation for Five Tangos. (This music is catnip for modern/ballet choreographers; see Paul Taylor’s Piazzolla Caldera.) The womens’ costumes provide visual snap, which carries through the dance, which evokes the attitude of tango more than a literal rendition: attack bordering on martial arts, absolute confidence and boldness, and dramatic flair. Qiam Liu and Young Gyu Choi led the cast with terrific expressiveness and athleticism.

Davi Ramos, Sho Yamada, and Salome Leverashvli in The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.
Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Forsythe created Vertiginous (1996) back when he was radicalizing ballet, and largely before focusing on his evening-length conceptual works that are as much art installation/theater as dance. The womens’ chartreuse, Saturn-ring tutus still look futuristic while raising questions about the origin and necessity for the tutu, period. But they tie the dance to the classical tradition, as does Schubert's music, canned and nostalgic feeling. Hewing to the title, the steps are fast, fierce, and dangerous looking, performed with speed and accuracy. Torqued torsos and high jumps into rétiré number among Forsythe’s balletic experiments. Two and Only (2018), a shirtless male duet, felt a bit like an add-on, marked by a pose-and-move rhythm to somewhat sappy folk songs by Michael Benjamin.

Sadly, the cast lacked an injured Olga Smirnova, a recent company addition who left the Bolshoi after Russia attacked Ukraine. But the company dancing at the Pillow met the loftiest standards of the art, and their ease and facility in a breadth of styles impressed. Let's hope they return state-side soon.

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