We think of virtuosity as mastery, but in some contemporary choreography, prowess has acquired an ironic new aspect. Instead of implying superhuman perfection and accomplishment, performers' technical skills are used to convey imperfection, disconnectedness, and alienation. For instance, Finnish choreographer Jorma Elo, whose works appear in many companies' repertories, creates full-throttle demonstrations of kinky, twitchy, dodgy behavior, in which the dancers ripple their spines and slash the air with their limbs until they resemble sleek machines running amok. A physical version of multitasking that approaches dementia.

Deploying the "wow" factor: Rubinald Pronk and Drew Jacoby in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's One
Liza Voll
Deploying the "wow" factor: Rubinald Pronk and Drew Jacoby in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's One

William Forsythe is the brainy fore-father of this; he has ventured way beyond George Balanchine in pushing ballet moves off-center and disorienting the classical line. After seeing his impressive 2003 theater piece Decreation at BAM last fall, I wrote that the "performers move as if they're trying to decreate their own bodies; their bones seem to be melting, their sinews and tendons abandoning their usual pathways." Taking the human body apart onstage in extreme ways, as Forsythe has done, can express some of our most disturbing fears. Yet, understandably, audiences also respond to high-wattage displays of distortion as simply another dancerly skill that resonates with our experiences of living. Never has our everyday awkwardness looked so chic, so exciting.

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