Tripping Around

European Folktale at ABT; Postmodern Moves in Prague and Bratislava

The pretty "old town" in Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic, is smaller than Prague's, and a wide bridge and a highway built by the Soviets split it in two (the ancient Jewish quarter was destroyed in the process). For the fifth year, undaunted by financial struggles, the Bratislava in Movement Association has staged a weeklong festival in three different theaters, usually with two different shows per night.

The Slovakian choreographers seem to like their movement juicier, and their ideas, mostly focusing on emotional relationships, fit in with trends and themes seen elsewhere, like those wheeling, over-the-back lifts grandfathered by contact improvisation. A Play With Time, made by Milan Kozánek for the Studio of Dance in Bánska Bystrica, shows an idyllic white world of flowing, resilient, evenly paced movement; excellently danced, its circles, clusters, and seated watchers imply community, but Kozánek pulls back from really working the idea. The company's director, Zuzana Hajkova, creates a clever scaffolding for exploring women's roles in her I Haven't Written to You for So Long. Intermittently, two men read letters sent by young girls and women to their friends. In one lovely moment, Lucia Kasiarova, Eva Klimackova (especially fine), and Stanislava Vlcekova sit and touch one another gently with their fingertips, as if exploring a map of another country to verify its similarities to their own. A rather banal scene of domestic chores is redeemed by a beautiful ending, the women walking on glass jars pulled from a sort of big metal egg crate; in magical light by Jan Cief they step, helped by the men, along paths of their own creation.

I suspect none of these choreographers gets preperformance feedback on their work. Many seem to run out of steam long before they're done. This is certainly true of three duets, each about a couple's rocky journey. The most harmonious, One Yin for Every Yang, by Kozánek and his wife Zuzana Kozánkova of Artyci Dance, is also the most abstract, a matter of repeating patterns to mechanistic percussion or New Age waves. Disagreement, if any, is as mild as facing different directions or being out of sync. The wonderful young dancer Milano Tomasik (clear, unaffected, and technically strong) co-choreographed Zluftu with Katte Mojzisová, who projects a sharp, more calculating personality. What's admirable about their dance passages is the varied dynamic shadings and the dramatic timing; what's eventually numbing is the number of times sequences—which include banging into the walls and sitting in the front row—repeat.

Stiffed: Angel Corella plays the Piper in David Parsons’s new work for ABT.
photo: Ellen Crane
Stiffed: Angel Corella plays the Piper in David Parsons’s new work for ABT.

Peter Groll's In a Minor Key, also drawn out, is wonderfully performed by Petra Fornayova and Daniel Racek. I admire the clever ways Groll suggests elements of their life together: Racek becomes almost fanatically engrossed in measuring with his hands the distances between certain points on the floor. Fornayová, ignored, tentatively tries copying him; he's startled, then touched.

The imagery in Fornayová's solo Half-moon Bear stays with me. Wrapped in a clumsy bundle of thin foam rubber pierced with rows of holes, the crouching woman holds at arm's length three peacock feathers that seem to betoken a feared sensuality in herself. Gradually the feathers "seduce" her, make her shed her bulky wrap, dance freely, and wend her way between the little trees formed by the feathers, which she has stood on end. Suddenly recovering her inhibitions, she snatches up the garment again, but three more feathers await her.

It's heartening to see all this contemporary activity in countries that, prior to the "Velvet Revolution" of 1989, understood stage dance primarily as ballet.

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