Emio Greco and Pieter C. Scholten, the founders of the International Choreographic Arts Centre Amsterdam, find no irony in generating a plethora of words about the primacy of the body in dance. ICKamsterdam has produced publications, workshops, lectures, and “salons” focusing on “Dance and Discourse.” The intellectual aspect is as heated as Greco and Scholten’s choreography and as rife with enigmas. Here’s one of “Seven Statements” on the group’s website: “It is necessary for me to tell you that my body is curious about everything and I am my body.”
[purgatorio] POPOPERA is the company’s third production inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy. But although the seven deadly sins are intermittently projected on a suspended circular screen, and black-clad, black-masked Greco and the versatile singer Michaela Riener might be both psychopomps and tormenters, the choreography doesn’t focus on temptation or individual reactions to it. The subject is the winding road to transformative salvation, and the climax is achieved through music, when the five dancers finally begin to play the electric guitars they’ve been handling on and off since the beginning of the 65-minute piece. The din that composer Michael Gordon has orchestrated for them is tremendous; in this fusion of sound, motion, thought, and action, every sin ought to flee their souls holding its ears.
Marc Warning’s set and Henk Danner’s lighting create a dark world, pierced at times with acidly bright beams. A low wall of lights edges one side of the stage, a wedge-shaped black staircase sits in a corner. The screen holds Joost Rekveld’s video projections of cosmic designs and disintegrating forms. Riener, in a spangled silver gown, initially sings from one side of the Joyce’s balcony. Later, onstage, she also plays an accordion and mingles with the dancers. Whenever she emits an unexpected high shriek, one of them falls or changes what he or she is doing. Greco watches the action, occasionally bursting into fantastic motion. Is it possible to look like a capering gnome gabbling imprecations with his body?
Clifford Porter has costumed the other performers oddly: Victor Callens and Vincent Colomes wear only flesh-colored tights; Dereck Cayla enters in spangled trousers; tall Suzan Tunca (she of the foaming 10-inch Afro) is clad in a transparent violet dress over very little; and small Marie Sinnaeve’s equally revealing black-net bodysuit covers her face, but not her blond hair. Most often moving as a unit, the five strike positions as if impelled, not just by the stentorian guitar chords in Gordon’s stunning recorded score, but by desperate urges.
They plant their feet wide at first and begin to thrust their limbs around. In the section called “Monday: Gluttony,” they start in a deep lunge, their backs drastically arched. Later, they strike a balletic stance—one outstretched foot nicely pointed, their chests lifted, their arms elegant—and begin to quake. At one moment, Colomes, trapped in a chill spotlight, executes a barrage of furious ballet steps, then shudders into silent screams.
Although the dancers sometimes waver, break out of a pattern, or collapse, you’re mostly aware of them pushing their bodies to the limit, straining to break out and find new patterns, their fierceness in marked contrast to the orderly unison structures of the choreography. Only occasionally do they touch, and it’s surprising when Greco seizes Callens and starts manipulating him (Callens’s height and slim, muscular body make his every writhing and stretching hyper-legible).
For Greco and Scholten, the guitars are symbols as well as instruments. At first, the dancers know how to hold them, but not how to use them. They lay them in a row at the front of the stage, as if offering them up. Later they dump them at the foot of the stairs where Greco lurks. Finally they pick up other guitars and start strumming at different pitches, getting increasingly louder and harsher. Greco and Riener (now wearing a blond wig, heels, and a spangled unitard) wander among them. This final section is full of musical changes: Sinnaeve soloing on the guitar as if she’s trying to emerge from her skin; Riener singing softly in German, the amazing dancers harmonizing with her. The five recap fragments of everything they’ve done previously. Yet in the end, they’ve fallen, surrounded by dark whispers. Purgatory is us? In redemption is exhaustion?
Much of [purgatorio] POPOPERA is compelling, but it’s also sometimes obscure and confusing. You ponder any possible relationship between what the dancers are doing and the advertised sins. The energy level is immediately ratcheted up to a pitch that rarely varies and can eventually sap your attentiveness. I begin to feel as if I, too, am expiating my sins and wonder when I’ll be eligible for release.
At villagevoice.com/dance, read about Fall for Dance, Raimund Hoghe, Big Dance Theater, and Maria Hassabi