Humans and Gods From Abroad in Premieres North of the City

Some performances leave me wishing I could hang out with the dancers for a while. The five men in Conny Janssen’s Rebound and her choreography for them affect me that way. Not that the guys are always sweethearts; testosterone often has its way with them. There are women in this Rotterdam-based company (until its Pillow appearances, seen in the U.S. only in Portland, Oregon, and Escondido, California), but they don’t appear in Rebound.

Thomas Rupert’s handsome set of three ten-foot-high, white-paneled walls could be construed as anything from a health club to an antechamber to who knows what. The performers can lounge in—or peer down from—windows in the rear wall and hoist themselves onto shelves sticking out of the side walls. Rattling or thunderous sounds and snatches of sweet music in Koen Keevel’s score add to the ambiguous atmosphere, and Remko van Wely’s lighting makes no allusions to nature or the hour of the day. Wherever the five are, they have no pressing agendas.

Their behavior is so ordinary that it’s a surprise when they exhibit dancerly skills, but these are so casually integrated into their everyday behavior that even Dario Tortorelli’s pirouettes and the thrusting of Martijn Kappers’s long, straight, limbs look like parts of speech. Dancing is just one of the things they do to pass the time or fling out challenges. After Javier Vaquero Ollero, Froilán Medina Hernández, Tortorelli, and Kappers have managed to join in a unison passage, they stop and look back at Kevin Polak, as if to say “Are you with us or not?”

Nadja Sellrup of Stockholm 59° North in Cristina Caprioli's Cicada
Christopher Duggan
Nadja Sellrup of Stockholm 59° North in Cristina Caprioli's Cicada


Jacobís Pillow Dance Festival
Becket, Massachusetts

Conny Janssen Danst
July 24 through 27

Stockholm 59ļ North
August 6 through 10

Shantala Shivalingappa
August 7 through 10

Rivalries and conspiracies develop, but nothing looks really brutal, partly because of Janssen’s leavening of wit. Three of them grab Tortorelli, restrain him, walk him up a wall, deposit him on a high shelf, and slope off. When Kappers and Polak are done with a strenuous, contentious duet, Polak drops to the floor and Kappers sits on him, thinking. Small hostilities are directed at Ollero (did I see someone try to kick his face?), but he bounces back. Which brings me to the significance of the title. These fellows are not only resilient, they literally rebound. Polak clues us in to this when his head appears over the top of the high back wall. Who could have imagined a hidden, mic’d trampoline?

After they pull the trampoline forward through the back wall as if opening a big drawer, the mood gradually lightens, although not everyone is into jumping up and down. The men partner one another amicably. Kappers sings to himself. Hernández teaches some steps, Polak adds to them, and a crazy canon develops. Suddenly the guys’ boisterousness becomes only playful. And then everything winds down. What a day! Anyone for a beer?

Let’s hope that Conny Janssen Danst gets a New York City gig before much more time passes.

In Nacho Duato’s Castrati, the nine men of Stockholm 59º North form an artistic universe miles away from the men of Janssen’s Rebound. Duato’s subject is the castration of promising boy singers in 18th-century Italy to produce a high, florid voice for baroque opera. Castrati’s fierce rituals, set primarily to sacred music by Vivaldi, depersonalize the men as severely as the loss of testicles changed the lives of those real little boys. Rushing about in their long, black, open-fronted skirts (half priestly garb, half female attire), they swoop down on the terrified new recruit like dark birds. In Duato’s very dramatic scenario, those who were once victimized for their greater glory (and their family’s income) evidently consider it their mission to do unto others what was done to them. The men of Stockholm 59º North perform the several striking passages of fanatical high-intensity dancing as forcefully as members of Duato’s own Compañia Nacional de Danza did at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last year, and the audience gets high on the mix of powerful male display and shudder-inducing cruelty.

These dancers are all members of the Royal Swedish Ballet, eager to experience new contemporary choreography. Jens Rosén, who played the new recruit in Duato’s work, is the group’s artistic director. The earlier part of the Jacob’s Pillow program consisted of two short pieces by Mats Ek, whose work is rarely seen in the U.S., and a world premiere by Cristina Caprioli, whose choreography has never been presented here.

Ek’s Apartment is a U.S. premiere. A free-standing white door sets up an encounter between two high-spirited people. The woman gears herself up to knock, but the man’s hand reaches around it to stroke her suggestively. The door never opens. To music for piano and strings by “Innocent” Fläskkvartetten, the pair (I saw Jeannette Diaz-Barboza and Nikolaus Fotiadis) cavort with the kind clumsy charm you’d expect from a girl who wears a bouffant blue skirt and blue socks to match. Ek is very good at clumsiness. The man bunches up his partner and lugs her around; he drags her by one foot while she, sitting, mimes playing a flute. Their bodies fit together in odd ways, and even the occasional tender touch looks a bit off-key. In the end, they both disappear behind the door. Then she totes him offstage piggyback.

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