Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui Builds Martial Calm; Sasha Waltz Takes a Society Apart

Belgians and Germans and dance

Waltz has said that the piece’s three sections move from abstraction to realism to surrealism, and that seems true. The entire action takes place in a deserted building, maybe a school or club, with paint-blotched walls, a resonantly mic’d wooden floor, three different kinds of doors, the remnants of pipes and electrical equipment, a cot, buckets, chairs, a table (design by Thomas Schenk and Waltz). Some unspecified disaster is happening outside. In the first scene, the 16 performers, wearing nondescript clothes (costumes by Beate Borrmann), arrive gradually, come and go—always making you aware that what is outside this building is dangerous. Jonathan Bepler’s ominous sound score (larded with bits of Bach) and Martin Hauk’s lighting maintain the sense of threat.

During the first part, Waltz uses choreography to suggest the tasks of maintaining equilibrium and forming alliances. The section is rich with amazing, beautifully designed counterbalances. In twos and threes, the 16 powerful dancers hook onto one another in unusual ways. You may see one bent over, another nestling beneath, and a third lying across them, board-stiff. Once two men interlock, balanced on only one of them’s right foot. A rhythm develops; a performer enters just in time to relieve a colleague or complete a design.

But gradually the pace accelerates, and difficulties arise. A man crashes to the floor, the lights get brighter, the sound score noisier. One man (Matija Ferlin) climbs onto the platform above one of the doors and becomes a leader. Virgis Podziunis collapses, and the crowd reacts as if he has some disease. “Don’t touch him,” Ferlin yells; women wash him. People climb on the chairs, the tables. They daren’t leave; if they open one door, smoke billows in. Liza Alpizar Aguilar leaves and returns, sobbing uncontrollably. They develop strategies for survival, dole out mush, drink water they’ve acquired by attaching a long pipe to one of those high on the wall. Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola plays a tiny keyboard and some join him in wanly discordant singing. Finally, smoke and flames pour in, and an electric circuit blows out, sparking. You hear buildings toppling. The stage goes black.

The monks of the Shaolin Temple in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra
Julieta Cervantes
The monks of the Shaolin Temple in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra
Sasha Waltz’s Gezeiten
Yi-Chun Wu
Sasha Waltz’s Gezeiten

Details

Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Sutra
Rose Theater
November 2 through 4

Sasha Waltz & Guests: Gezeiten BAM
Howard Gilman Opera House
November 3 through 6

After that, you may expect. . .what? At first, it seems that Waltz is going to provide a quiet, desperate, getting-on-with-life denouement to this griping scene. The sun seems to be shining outside. All is quiet. The people enter numbly. But this is the surreal part—meaning, I guess, that disaster has unhinged everyone. Aguilar has been carried to the cot and covered up. Podziunis (I think it’s he), pulls up a floorboard, lays it across the cot’s headboard and footboard, and curls up on it, balanced above her. Pointless or deranged tasks proliferate. A man nails his shoes to the wall, and later, another man tries to help a woman put her feet into them. Xuan Shi attempts to build a tower of bricks retrieved from under the floor. People squabble over trivia, fight, and pull the floor apart, board by board. They start piling stuff on the cot, as if ready to wheel it away, but when Sasa Queliz parks on it and decides she owns the whole thing, the others start stealing the items out from under her.

After a while, I wonder, charitably, whether Waltz feels that this excessively bizarre behavior has to go one for a long time so you can feel how fatally this society has been damaged. But, less charitable now, I think that the act of dreaming up weird bits for everyone has gotten out of control. Of course, when the lights finally go out, we applaud the tremendously valiant and skillful performers and stagger for the door, hoping that—especially on this deep, dark post-election night—the subways will be running and the stars will still be shining for us.

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