• U.S.

Dance: Cooling It

3 minute read

Technical skill for a major ballet company is just a question of hard work; a consistent, defined style is something else again. The nine-year-old Netherlands Dance Theater, which just finished a two-week Manhattan engagement and is off to another in Mexico City, is not only expert—it is also stylish. The Dutch manner, though, is quite different from the elan and exuberance of U.S. companies. The mood is serious; the movement sober, without the bravura leaps and dashes with which American dancers assault the eyes and the endocrines. The Dutchmen are out to dance—not to dazzle.

If their dancing is not American, much of their choreography is: there are 21 U.S.-created ballets in the theater’s repertory, some never before seen in this country. One of the best is Job Sanders’ Impressions, which uses Paul Klee paintings as “points of departure” for seven vignettes (set to music by American Composer Gunther Schuller) that capture both the painter’s economy and his wit. There is sexy balletic humor in a spoof of Arab amour that features sinuous ballerina Willy de la Bije as the most languid odalisque ever to scratch herself where it itches. Most ambitious American entry is Glen Tetley’s The Anatomy Lesson, which takes as its starting point Rembrandt’s famous painting of the white-ruffed, black-hatted surgeons of Amsterdam, solemnly posed around the dissecting table with its pallid corpse. In Tetley’s version, the naked corpse (danced by Jaap Flier) suddenly twitches, sits up, leaps off the table, and begins to dance his yearning for his lost life with his wife, his mother, his childhood playmates. Tetley has turned the tables—his cadaver is more alive than the pompous doctors.

A major source of the company’s cool, exact style is the choreography of its Dutch cofounder, Hans van Manen, whose Essay in Silence shows the theater’s corps at its reserved but authoritative best. The theme of the dance is man’s lack of communication with man. Without a note from the orchestra, the dancers swoop, leap, writhe and double up in inarticulate agony. But the dance is full of sound—the staccato rhythms of the dancers’ feet, their sudden grunts and cries of desperation and, as the pace increases, the amplified lub-dub of a beating heart. A blood-red column rises like a fever thermometer against the black backdrop and dramatically expands to encompass the entire stage. The ballet closes on a muted note of hope: a boy and a girl are dancing together—albeit distantly—and a church organ is playing.

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