April 21, 2003


By Molly Glentzer, Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Good dance takes you on a journey. And it can take you multiple places, depending on your state of mind.

At last weekend's Dance Salad festival, 15 dances -- all either North American or Houston premieres -- mixed and matched into three programs. Friday's was the most potent, although I wouldn't have missed Netherlands Dance Theater's Sigue or Buglisi/Foreman's Requiem from other nights.

Edgy theatricality was the passport, combining inventive choreography with a minimalist visual aesthetic, intriguing costumes and appropriate music. Virpi Pahkinen's Bardo for the Royal Swedish Ballet's Stockholm 59° North company, and David Dawson's The Grey Area for the Dutch (Het) National Ballet came from different movement perspectives, but both were as spare as a Zen poem.

For Bardo (the stage between life and reincarnation), a horizon of white light glowed under the partly raised black backdrop, and a mobile of large spheres hung centerstage. Akemi Ishijima's music lent quietude. In a great moment, Pahkinen and two men created the shape of a lotus blossom opening. Pahkinen, a spirit traveling fitfully between worlds, danced a compelling long solo. At the end she rejoined the men, lying down, and each turned slowly to face the light.

In The Grey Area, the Het's five dancers had out-of-this-world ballet technique. They spun, walked, spiraled and flew over a gray floor in changing light, sometimes facing a huge curtain at stage right. Niels Langz's score enhanced the atmospherics, electronically distorting music by J.S. Bach.

Other dances were sexual journeys. A huge red velvet couch was a tantalizing island of desire in the Brazilian Quasar Companhia de Danca's Mulheres (Women). Henrique Rodovalho's intense work for three women was metaphorically loaded. A fierce dance over the top of the couch caught every beat of the heart-pounding music by Les Tamoures du Bronx. Likewise, a repeated motif in which one dancer encircled another with her arms, then collapsed, caught the emotion of Wim Mertens' memorable music.

Hans van Manen's much-anticipated Live also suggested love's dangerous aspects. A sensuous young ballerina (the Het's exquisite Igone de Jongh) chased a male dancer like a heat-seeking missile. But he was more than she could handle. Their come-and-go sensibility was reflected in the action -- doors opening and closing, plus live video that prompted thoughts about the real versus the staged.

Created in 1979, Live was one of the first dances to incorporate real-time video. It still resonates, although most of it is not lit or shot in a way that would excite the MTV generation. Cameraman Henk van Dijk provided close-ups of de Jongh's opening solo (she flirted with him, too), projected on the backdrop's large screen. He followed her into the lobby as she pursued the boy to dance a pas de deux; the audience saw it only on the screen. When de Jongh covered the lens as if to say, "Enough. This is private," a pre-recorded video began. It was even more private: a violent pas de deux set in a ballet studio. Pianist Olga Khoziainov's passionate rendering of the Franz Liszt score went silent, to emphasize the amplified slamming of the dancers' bodies and their angrily stomping feet. Finally, van Dijk followed de Jongh out of the building, leaving a final image of her wandering, alone, toward Buffalo Bayou.

Sigue, created and awesomely danced by Netherlands Dance Theater's Paul Lightfoot and Sol Léon, was a pilgrimage through grief. It needed no more than bodies to make its point, although a shaft of light and a falling snow of flour added drama. She was a mourner. He was the object of her sadness. Sigue was punctuated by Léon's quirky gestures and Lightfoot's gravity-flouting spirit. He began the dance with a jaw-dropping fall, landing flat on his back with no mat underneath -- as mean as the blow of death.

Requiem -- featuring glorious, backless baroque dresses that served as flags, cloaks and sculptural drapes -- was a reaction to the tragedy of 9/11. The Göteborg Ballet's Blue Ballerina created a Magritte-like image of sadness.

But Dance Salad wasn't just a heavy trip. Mats Ek's Pointless Pastures duet for Sweden's Cullberg Ballet charmed with its gentle humanism. Picture two country bumpkins in silly hats. And a girl who says hello to her man by knocking him down but later buries her face happily in his used handkerchief. Kanji Segawa tickled the funny bone in Robert Battle's Takademe. Kenneth Kvarnström's Carmen?! was silly, lapsing into predictability after an opening of quaking torsos.