Stockholm/59° North is a small ensemble of formidable dancers. An arm of the Royal Swedish Ballet, it was founded in 1997 by Madeleine Onne to explore up-to-date subjects and styles. The program the company showed at Jacob’s Pillow suggested that for some choreographers who emerge from ballet, making contemporary dances involves two mandates: “Anything can follow anything else” and “Get weird with the body.” I started to wonder what artistic forebear might have passed on the strand of DNA apparently shared by most of the five dancemakers involved. Call him or her “the Master of Non Sequitur.”
In at least three works featured on the company’s Jacob’s Pillow program, the dancers use their legs with the articulate precision of ballet, although they avoid, for the most part, arabesques and the like. All the while their arms whip through controlled storms of angular moves interspersed with little everyday gestures. Countless times, they slash their forearms into x’s on the way to opening them out. Nothing appears to lead to anything else, giving the impression of a perverse if charming bunch of tireless athletes busily deconstructing their heritage for no particular reason.
Who wouldn’t enjoy surveying the terrific three men featured in the talented Jorma Elo’s In My Dream Team, as they sweat their way through solos and group encounters and some clever choreographic devices? Small, gutsy Johannes Öhman, the group’s current artistic director; tall elegant Göran Svalberg; and equally leggy Hans Nilsson are humanized, however, not so much by what they do but by how they do it and by information provided in a stylishly composed, uncredited film. Onscreen we get their printed stats and learn which one has three kids, which one’s back gives him trouble, etc.; their mothers—three articulate, attractive women—confide their kids’ early ambitions and their own worries.
Occasionally Katarina Laitakari appears, flexing her spine alarmingly, mainly to convey that partnering is a part of these men’s life in ballet (and perhaps the cause of their backaches). Although Elo avoids the ballet vocabulary, the joltingly deconstructed bits of Carl Maria von Weber’s score for Fokine’s Le Spectre de la Rose imply that the kinky gestures and ferocious bouts of dancing might represent the men’s struggle with their classical conditioning.
Mats Ek, perhaps the best known of the choreographers, creates an equally quirky solo for the fine and handsome Jan-Erik Wikström to begin the 1991 Pas de Danse . To engaging Swedish folk harmonica, Wikström embarks on a phrase that involves big sweeping turns and swerves—also quivering his fingers, opening his jacket to show his bare chest, pretending his hand is a mirror in which he doesn’t like what he sees, and getting playful with a handkerchief. After Jeanette Diaz-Barboza makes a stunning entrance—her slide into a split passes for “What’s up with him?”—she walks over and swats him (later, during their disaffected pas de deux, he smacks her in passing, and also pulls put his hankie and blows his nose). Nikolaus Fotiadis and Karin Forslind enter to dance a quick-footed, comradely, faux folk dance to lively accordion music. Aha! One member of each pair wears ecru and one blue; switching partners color-codes them for compatibility, except that Wikström again blows his nose, and Forslind walks out with a funny, jerky little step.
Forslind is a vengeful, wiry, red-clad bitch goddess in Virpi Pakhinen’s By the Painless Arrows of Artemis . Not so painless those arrows, and not very clearly directed. Forslind’s sharp, eerie gestures—the cat’s claws, the fists, the I-put-a-spell-on-you thrusts—are aimed not just at her equally aggressive prey, Wikström, but at the world in general, even though it’s his shoulder she ends up sitting on.
Non sequiturs work to fine comic effect in the 1994 Carmen?! by Kenneth Kvarnström, whose own company showed his wonderful Fragile at Jacob’s Pillow in 2002. To Rodion Schedrin’s medley from Bizet’s eponymous opera (perhaps further deconstructed?), five splendid men (Wikström, Tim Matiakis, Hâkon Mayer, Aleksander Nikolaev, and Fotiadis) offer a wacky flip book of macho Spaniards, matadors, toppled bulls, horned charges, stabs to the gut (their own), elaborate death scenes, waving crowds, and competition. All these are inverted, juxtaposed in unlikely tableaux, and knocked into explosive dancing.
One of the program’s most quietly pleasing pieces created images of unity and continuity through its relationship to the accompanying music. Örjan Andersson set his Come Out (like Pahkinen’s and Elo’s pieces, a U.S. premiere) to Steve Reich’s famous repetitive vocal score. Diaz-Barboza, Laitakari, Cecilia Olsen, and Kristina Oom move by twos or in a squad through a series of patterns that are exacting without being dry—unison separating into canon, lines giving way to circles, the movement now crisp, now springy. Once they erupt out of a slow walk like startled cats. Andersson, too, trots out those ubiquitous arms whips, but what the hell. And I forgive him the strobe light.