Multinational Nightmares


The “World Wide Works” series, at Dance Theater Workshop in April, brought edgy dance from four faraway places. Each troupe transformed the Bessie Schönberg Theater into the place of its dreams—or nightmares.

The series got off to a crackling start with Déjà Donné, a European ensemble that can split your soul with its lightning-fast psychodrama. Watching In Bella Copia (“The Final Version”), created by Czech director Lenka Flory and Italian dancer-director Simone Sandroni, you’re laughing and aching at the same time. The performers wear sexy short skirts and jeans, and they use their sexuality to wreak havoc with one another’s fantasies. Brilliantly interlocking duets are studded with split-second stillnesses, during which the dancers dare each other to escalate pleasure or pain. A woman lures two men to kiss her, muttering directions to them charmingly. She arouses them to the point where they nearly rape her, reducing her to a sobbing ball. At other times, the seven performers careen around the space, plowing through a rack of clothes or grabbing light booms and using them to harass each other. Each character undergoes a drastic transformation that leaves the audience reeling, but with the possibility for exhilaration too.

The group Living Dance Studio from China, led by Wen Hui and Wu Wenguang, offered Report on Body, a collage of whimsical images aided by video feedback. In both this work and the Déjà Donné piece, dancers interact with the technology that creates the environment. A woman gets folded into her suitcase as another woman sits on top of it. A headless figure in an elongated blue dress dances with one of the men. A man perched on a scaffold that houses controls for sound and real-time video dangles an apple at the end of a fishing rod; women on the stage below bob for it. A woman rants at us with a French accent. This hodgepodge lacks force and cogency, and the choreography is thin. But a theme of clothing threads through, with the garments finally getting strung together for a game of jump rope. At this point the dancers carry blobs under their clothing that lilt gracefully when they jump. In a giddy, infectious scene, they skip rope, and the blobs, which turn out to be bags of rice, break open and spill out, causing more glee.

The Lucy Guerin Company from Australia, in The Ends of Things (reviewed by Deborah Jowitt last month), traced a daydream of everyday tasks as it turned into a nightmare of shame and isolation.

Italian choreographer Emio Greco and his Dutch collaborator Pieter C. Scholten created the spare, intense Double Points: One & Two (replacing Extra Dry, which was canceled due to an injury). Greco’s a cross between the snaky Kenneth King and the strung-out Eleo Pomare (think Junkie). In Part One, the sound track bookends Ravel’s Bolero with jarring explosions. In the dimness, Greco might be wiggling his pelvis, chewing gum, or spitting, but we can’t quite tell. His hyper, fevered quality both draws us in and puts us off. His hands curve like paws or drip like a lax ballet dancer’s, and his mouth makes a silent growl. Merciless strip lights glare down from above, and the occasional explosions are so jarring I’m surprised they don’t trigger a seizure in the auditorium. Then again, Greco’s dancing is sort of one long seizure. At the end, we hear fireworks—or are they bombs?

In Double Points: Two, a beguiling dreadlocked dancer named Bertha Bermudez Pascual emerges from the darkness. Greco and Pascual, both wearing gauzy beige dresses, rub their arms together like flies, or windmill their arms till they blur. (Didn’t Akram Khan do that last year at the Kitchen?) Pascual’s relative calm helps bring the choreography into focus. The pair alternate open lunges with a stork walk—bent over, arms thrust behind, high on the legs—and then suddenly settle into a relaxed Delsartian posture. A percussion score propels them around the space, doing the same sequence as before, but now they hit their kinetic stride. (Funny, what music can do.) In the last moment, a bright white horizontal rectangle appears on the floor like a mirage, upending the vertical rectangle from the first episode.

The programming of this “World Wide Works” series revealed a preference for the obsessive, even the disturbing. The effects linger, and one is reminded that Americans are not the only fish swimming in the river of postmodern dance.

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