Three Visions of Community
Love Song Waltzes"/ "Tabula Rasa"/"Limb's Theorem"
This year's Juilliard students were certainly given a representative impression of what's out there waiting for them in the dance world of 2005. Substantial works by Mark Morris, Ohad Naharin and William Forsythe offered them plenty of challenges and inspired mature, invigorating performances from these young dancers.
It's strange to have a Mark Morris work be the oldest item on a program, but that was the case with his highly individual, warmly persuasive interpretation of the divine Brahms Liebeslieder Walzer that inspired Balanchine's great 1960 ballet. Morris' 1982 "New Love Song Waltzes" is set to the 15 lieder that make up the second half of the earlier work. His five men and five women are an earthy, robust group given to moments of profound tenderness. Dressed in un-fancy, practical costumes of deep blue and black, they certainly do not evoke traditional images of romantic fantasy, but they do have the power to surprise, and to touch the heart.
Morris' choreography effortlessly and subtly reflects the swelling surges and delicate intricacies of the Brahms music, and his often idiosyncratic responses may momentarily seem odd, but the more you tune into his wavelength, the more persuasive and inevitable it all seems. I've always appreciated the way his choreography from this period often reflected a deep (perhaps instinctive) connection to the weighted power and uplifting aspirations of modern dance works from the 1930s by Doris Humphrey or Martha Graham in which the expressive force of the ensemble was so invigorating. I was again impressed by how Morris has made a work that is both expertly crafted and so deeply humanistic.
In this exemplary staging by Tina Fehlandt, the Juilliard students gave themselves wholeheartedly to the movement and the spirit of ensemble that marks the work. They were very much a deeply connected community, and while occasional alliances or partnerships developed, it was thee expansive power of the group that dominated. They gave themselves over to Morris' wonderful rounded shapes, and understood the weighted emphasis and occasional gaucheness that is called for.
This was a wonderful way to open the program—and the fervent, enrapturing performances by the Juilliard vocalists and pianists proved to be the only live musical accompaniment, since the other two works featured recorded scores. It also turned out to be the only glimpse of harmonious dancing with any hint of hopefulness to it. The other two works took the dancer s into a somber, even desperate territory. They also bore the imprint of choreographers who impose more conceptual baggage on their dances than Morris does.
Ohad Naharin's "Tabula Rasa," from 1986, has a severe purity and none of the gamemanship and gimmickry that have marked some of his works shown locally in recent years. Taking his cue from the spare, haunting intensity of Arvo Part's score of the same title, Naharin sends his ten dancers out into a world of lamentation and loss, as though they were survivors in a barren landscape. Wearing simple, modified street clothes (loose, sack-like dresses for the women; pale shirts and soft pants for the men) mostly in earth tones, they are recognizably individual yet mainly presented as members of a tight, troubled community.
His movement requires suppleness and a yielding quality; the dancers seem to melt in and out of phrases. Often, they are required to flop to the floor with a suddenness that surprises. The first half ends with the group flailing desperately and falling onto their backs, ten warily crawling and groping their way offstage, disappearing into the corners as the lights go black.
The second half, to Part's slow, repetitive trance-like looping phrases, mainly consists of the dancers slowly, hypnotically inching their way onto and across the stage, their close in-synch progress conveying a sense of shared trepidation. It takes quite a while before anyone disrupted the pattern; but eventually three dancers were separated from the other seven for a while. Eventually, all ten come together in a wedge formation, and one by one separate into pairs with each man catching a woman as she begins to fall. Naharin seems less assured about how he wants this second half to come across; it has a few false endings and its tone is not always consistent. However, the dancers committed themselves wholeheartedly to his vision and really got deeply inside his movement.
Then there was William Forsythe's "Limb's Theorem Part III," full of his trademark dim lighting, fragmented bursts of high-voltage ballet steps that go nowhere, and of course set to an industrial-strength score by frequent collaborator Thom Willems. The odd set included a suspended half geodesic dome, open on the bottom, that rotated downstage left. An angled wood panel extended partway out onto the stage, and at the rear was what looked like an extra-wide window shade, with its bottom partly rolled up.
In this staging of the third part of a 1992 work, staged by Jill Johnson, twenty-seven Juilliard dancers bravely ventured out into this obstacle course of darkness, occasional bursts of blazing light, somehow knowing whereto go and how to navigate their paths. Dressed in an assortment of sleek black and/or white garb - many dressed alike, with an occasional individual sporting a different look, they slashed their limbs authoritatively and conveyed the obligatory sleek hauteur of Forsythe dancers. It was difficult to discern any logic or progression in the going-on. There was one section of massed power and surging force, with the entire cast's energies marshalled, that suggested the action was coming to a close, but that was just a teaser, and the dance continued to meander further beyond that point. It's a heartless, disembodied world that Forsythe creates onstage, with its of high-tech distractions to disguise the fact that the dancing itself, in brief, disjointed bursts, is ultimately just busy and aimless, another element in his deluded grand scheme.