Raimund Hoghe, Faustin Linyekula, and the New York City Ballet Help Open the Season

Curious stones and Balanchine at DTW and Lincoln Center

How do you see motion in stillness? Raimund Hoghe, the German writer turned performer-choreographer, would like, I think, to instruct us in feeling the weight of time and help us to notice that even very minimal movements, repeated over time, change—in themselves and in our perception of them. The works of his that I’ve seen both cleanse and charge the air.

Last year at Dance Theater Workshop, he began Bolero, the first piece of his to be seen in the U.S., by carefully, and with dignity, walking around the perimeter of the performing area. This year, in his Sans-titre (part of the French Institute’s Crossing the Line festival), he defines the same space by laying sheet after sheet of white paper along three sides of the black floor. That paper boundary and a candle in a glass at the back are the only décor. But he again begins by walking. He is not alone. While quiet Bach piano music emerges from the speakers, he and his colleague, Faustin Linyekula, approach each other from opposite sides of the stage, pass, and continue. Each repetition of this moves them a little closer to the rear wall, until they meet and stand side by side, their backs to us.

Faustin Linyekula and Raimund Hoghe in Hoghe’s "Sans-titre."
Yi-Chun Wu
Faustin Linyekula and Raimund Hoghe in Hoghe’s "Sans-titre."
New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s "Danses Concertantes," Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette center
Paul Kolnik
New York City Ballet in George Balanchine’s "Danses Concertantes," Megan Fairchild and Andrew Veyette center

Details

Raimund Hoghe with Faustin Linyekula
Dance Theater Workshop
September 16 through 18

New York City Ballet
David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center
September 6 through October 10

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The walk gives you time to think (will they meet this time?) but more importantly, to take in their differences. Hoghe is a very small, white man in his fifties, with a crooked spine and a hump; he’s wearing dark trousers and a black shirt. Linyekula—raised in Congo, the director of a dance company in Kenya—is a medium-height black man with—it turns out—a surpassingly beautiful spine; his shirt is white. It’s not unusual for Hoghe to work with younger, lither performers, but in this powerful piece—simpler and shorter than others he has made—the physical and cultural contrasts between these two men form its intense core.

Although “Sans-titre” can refer to an immigrant without papers, the no-title title is apt in another way. What could you call Sans-titre that wouldn’t be corny, or pin it down in some undesirable way? Stone Ritualis definitely out, although the ritualistically precise laying out and gathering up of stones take up a substantial amount of the piece’s duration. Another vital element is Linyekula’s dancing. He’s a master of the sinuous torso and shoulders; he takes off his shirt and you gasp. Holding him while he’s moving would be like grasping a snake. His whole body is in vibrant motion; he slips down into a squat and up again as he goes; his arms shape air. His rhythms are varied; he may pause, or draw one move out, then snap the next. He’s always watchful, even wary at times.

Linyekula is in curious sympathy with, although never exactly moving to, the recorded music Hoghe has chosen. And what music! It adds a spiritual layer and an understated poignancy to Sans-titre—hanging above it, moving through it. Janet Baker, I believe, is the mezzo-soprano who delivers Dido’s lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, but the very great English contralto, Kathleen Ferrier, who died of cancer at 41 in 1953, sings the Agnus Dei from Bach’s B-minor Mass and “He was despised. . .” from Handel’s Messiah. (At one point, Linyekula, while dancing vigorously, sings along with a recording, eerily on pitch, but slightly out of synch.) When the two men are initially standing at the back, Odetta’s voice caresses “No more auction block for me.” Through several of its sweet, sad verses, the men are still, as if to let us appraise them in a skewed parallel to long-ago slave auctions. Then Hoghe slowly raises his left arm and, with difficulty, holds it up. As Linyekula lifts his own arm, he passes it close to Hoghe’s back and head, caressing his partner without touching him.

The stones. They’re small. Linyekula can gather them in his hands and shake them. There are just enough for him to make a line from the front of the stage to the back, but after scanning along the trail and dancing a little, he walks forward in a squat, collecting them again. While Dido is singing “When I am laid in earth,” Hoghe walks to the rear center and lies supine, head toward the candle, feet toward us, and Linyekula begins another task with the stones. He outlines one of his hands with them, then the other hand and forearm, each time lifting away from the outlines to survey them or gather the stones needed to complete his task.

But his most important and difficult job is to lie face down and reach around to place the rocks one by one along his spine; then he crawls, rippling his back. Those that don’t fall he shakes off in a sudden frenzy. When Hoghe also removes his shirt and lies prone, Linyekula assumes the manner of a grave nurse, or healer. Carefully, he lays the stones along Hoghe’s spine, drawing our focus to its hills and valleys. The stone trail runs from waist to back of head, with a small cluster on Hoghe’s hump and one in each of his upturned palms.

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