Nederlands Dans Theater:  Jorma Elo (Part 1)

‘Pneuma,’ ‘Z/na,’ and 'Claude Pascal’

by Maria Technosux

May -- June, 2003 -- Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam

Why do we need to chase the dancers? Why isn't the dance enough? Dancers don't hold still for their portraits.   We can't be present everywhere to cover everything at the same time, so why even bother?

This is my first "review" for CriticalDance.com, and it isn't even a real review. Rather a collection of thoughts conceived after observing Jorma Elo. Every time I write a piece expressing my appreciation of someone else's creative expression, the act is not much appreciated. As unfortunate as it is, this is understandable. The worst crime you can commit in my universe is to fetishize a creative person. A fetish is a commodity, a killed thing, something consumed, digested, flushed away. Writing about a dancer you run the risk of objectifying something full of life.

For me, it is not the search for The Truth in the choreography. Neither is it a technical matter.   Rather, it is the assumption that by focusing on the dancers, I can increase the quality of my interpretation. At a deeper level lie feelings of desire, specifically the desire to be surprised, to discover something unexpected --the sensational in the good sense of the word. But these things remain unspeakable, because they all reveal a powerlessness and frustration with one's own existence that is outright palpable. Despite all this, I continue my fascination with the dancers despite being fully aware of the mechanics behind it.

The biggest mistake you can make is to try and guess a dancer's age. Inevitably you will get it wrong, since most of these people are age-chameleons. Knock another decade off of that one... He's 43, but I guessed him into his thirties. Time has drawn deep lines on his face, but when I look at his, I do not see the weary tiredness I see in my own...and I am only half his age. Age-ist attitudes show their ugly face: "I haven't seen this dancer in his prime, how can I say I like his dancing! I've obviously joined in too late." I feel that way when I consider the fact that I never got to see La La La Human Steps with Louise Lecavalier in real life. Elo’s been in NDT I for over a decade, but I was doing other things during that decade to bother or notice. Should I let that spoil the fun? I don't think so.


First sight:  Jorma Elo as The Watcher (chor: Johan Inger), Het Muziektheater, Amsterdam (NL), 2 May 2003, “Dynamic Images” program.

It was the first time I saw him dance. No, this does not feel traitorous to admit. I have already explained my "over a decade of almost zero dance involvement" situation in another text.

A critic identified Jorma Elo as The Watcher/Observer in this piece. To me he was a ghost from the past (also an observer of sorts? Pull out a Sartre!). Maybe because of the way he was manipulating Rei Watanabe during their pas de deux, and the frustration on her face, aware and not aware of his presence. “Pneuma” is the Greek word for "ghost", but also the word for "soul", so "spirit" would make the best translation of the term.

I didn't like this piece very much. Think "tear-jerking suburban angst fueled ausdruckstanz". Yes, a lot of nasty stuff going on behind the walls of our current day gated communities! The performance just doesn't speak to me. In my opinion, he was the only person that the choreography managed to compliment.

His dancing is an enigma to me. You have to see it for  ourselves because it looks like an impossibility. Not "impossible" as in highly-technical though. I am not that type of viewer. When he raises his arms, when he flutters his fingers (somber, kind of resigned), when he does that propeller-like movement with his arm at the side of the space (pathetic), there seems to be an equal amount of energy throughout his whole body. This in my opinion is not possible. When someone moves a bodypart, the audience can see that the focus of energy is on the moving part. Which is not to say that his movements are unfocused; quite the opposite. It seems that he doesn't intensify a certain movement to get his point across. He just moves and that's it. Hence, he seems to be in a constant state of equilibrium. I cannot define it. It is not the "natural gracefulness" that ballet-dancers are so good at faking. Neither would I characterize it as restrained, simply because I do not get the impression that he is forcing himself to hold back. What is it?

Part 2 of NDT: Jorma Elo by Maria Technosux


Edited by Jeff

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