Ballett Frankfurt

'The Room As It Was,' 'Duo,' '(N.N.N.N.),' 'One Flat Thing, reproduced'

by Holly Messitt

October 2, 2003 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

With some dances, you get bored halfway through them, and then they seem to drag on. When I watched Ballett Frankfurt during the Brooklyn Academy of Arts' Next Wave Festival, I felt the reverse. Halfway through each piece, a voice in my head whispered, “Don't stop.”

Regardless of the company's much talked about deconstruction of traditional ballet, I did not find these pieces overly heady. They have stayed with me as intellectual candy, but as I watched I found that even if the emotion was not always obvious, much joy, humor, and pain rippled beneath the surface. Adding to the overall effect, the dancers felt like familiar people, like someone you might see riding the subway.

The BAM program was structured so that two larger fragmented pieces, “The Room As It Was” and “One Flat Thing, reproduced,” surrounded two more intimate pieces, “Duo” and “(N.N.N.N.).” The sets, music, and costumes were all bare bones – was there a financial message there? – indeed there were no sets at all until the last piece, and in all but one of the pieces, the dancers could have been wearing the same outfits they wear to rehearsal. The silence of the pieces, except for the last piece, was also obvious. The dancers use this audible breath to keep time with each other.

“The Room As It Was” began with three dancers, Dana Caspersen, Jone San Martin, and Ander Zabala, who walk – or crawl in Zabala's case – onto stage and initiated a movement sequence. When the other five dancers, Jill Johnson, Natalie Thomas, Stephen Galloway, Fabrice Mazliah, and Christopher Roman, joined the initial trio, the dancers fragmented into their own individual and paired movements. Often, we saw awkward and contorted movement – San Martin, lying on the ground, for example, had one foot pointed and the other flexed – much of it demanded almost impossible flexibility. This is also the only piece in which the women rose up on pointe, but they rarely extended fully from their center. Instead they tilted or otherwise compromised traditional ballet movement. Also upturning ballet's tradition was the piece's structure. In the last moments of the dance, with a duet between Caspersen and Roman in the right-hand corner of the stage and Johnson and Mazliah lying on the ground opposite them, a curtain rose to reveal Galloway and San Martin in a duet. Then a few piano notes from Thom Willems played and the piece ended.

In “Duo” Allison Brown and Jill Johnson appeared on stage under one harsh florescent light lit from the ceiling in front of the stage. If the light had not already thrown the audience off guard, then certainly the appearance of the dancers in high-necked, see-through bodices did. Seeing the dancers' bare breasts, clearly visible under the harsh light, felt jarring, especially when the dancers fell to the ground and began to writhe, contorting their bodies, one foot twisted around upside down, the trunk twisted halfway around and the head partially lifted from the floor. The piece began with one faint note sounding over and over offstage from Willems' piano, yet as the music got louder and more intricate, the women rose and, moving in unison, danced more joyfully. Unlike the first piece in which it was hard to take in all the movement all the time, Brown and Johnson held the center of our attention throughout the dance, whether they were moving in unison or they broke off to work movements separately.

Cyril Baldy, Amancio Gonzalez, Georg Reischl, and Ander Zabala also captured and maintained the center of our attention throughout “(N.N.N.N.).” In the beginning they were drawn to each other as one might be drawn to his or her fate. Gonzalez appeared on stage first. He tossed his hand up in the air as one would a ball and then watched as his arm followed his hand. Reischl soon joined Gonzsalez and performed a similar movement. Baldy and Zabala walked on stage and though they seemed to want to pass by, something drew them back and pulled them into the action. Soon all four men were linked arms around each other in a straight line (a formation that Forsythe saw as four N's, hence the name). Soon they dispersed to work both individually and in pairs, switching off often in interesting partner changes. Their work had the gracefulness and speed of a sword fight as they anticipated each other's agile moves. Creaking noises came at irregular intervals from Willems offstage, but the audience heard mostly the dancers' breathing that also sounded like Batman onomatopoeia: swish, whoosh, pow.

Finally, the company ended with “One Flat Thing, reproduced.” It was the only piece of the evening with a set. The back of the stage suggested an industrial wasteland with lines of pipes crossing each other perpendicularly against a peeling, rust and soot-stained wall. As the dance began, twenty people each dragged a metal table from the back of the stage to the middle of the floor. Dana Caspersen in the program notes refers to the tables as “rafts of ice.” Whatever they are meant to evoke, the initial sound jolted. After that, the tables created a maze through which the dancers moved. The action was fast and fragmented. Most of the time, it was impossible to watch all the dancers at once. They moved as one would in an emergency, partnering and connecting for a moment before moving off to something else. In one corner two men crawled back and forth over the tables while a duet formed in another corner and other dancers moved in, out, and around the tables. It is possible to see the frantic movement as release and play, but with Willems' loud, pounding music, I found the overall affect made me think of apocalypse, and I had to wonder at the piece's significance at the end of this program, perhaps the last time we will see the company in this part of the country, at least in their present incarnation.

Edited by Jeff.

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