March 28, 2002 DANCE SALAD Review

'Dance Salad' tosses together birds,
an iguana and swiveling torsos

By Molly Glentzer, Houston Chronicle

Watching Thursday's 'Dance Salad' program at the Wortham Theater Center was like channel-surfing for three hours on one of those rare nights when just about everything on TV is good. Although the 11 dances were sensationally performed and much of the choreography was brilliant, the excerpted works were too brief to be satisfying.

Still, the program was a scintillating mix of modern dance and contemporary ballet whose divide was nearly invisible. The occasional pointe shoe marked some of the ballet pieces, but there wasn't a classical port de bras in the bunch. We're talking lots of steely feet, swiveling torsos and spring-loaded bodies with tilting necks and angular arms.

Fierce pyro-technique from the William Forsythe school bumped up against Jiri Kylian's emotive lyricism and floor-hugging modern movement with funny tics.

In spite of the movement contrasts and the diversity of the artists - they were from China, Sweden, Norway, England and the United States - a zeitgeist-laden aesthetic hovered like a storm cloud over it all. 'Dance Salad' director Nancy Henderek wanted you to sit down, pay attention and think deep thoughts.

The evening's most magical moments came in Yunna Long's Linglei (Unusual) - as delicately tranquil as a Chinese nature print, but painted with a metaphorical, modern edge. It transformed Guangdong's 11 fluid dancers into a flock of shimmering birds.

Their funky silver skirts - worn over white unitards with tight hoods - were distractingly ill-fitted on the back side, but otherwise fascinating.

Yunna's terrific choreography, set to synthesized music by Huang Guanglin, contrasted still moments with jittery ones as the flock made its way, in groups, across the stage. These birds didn't leap, as one might expect, when they flew. They hung low and froze, like runners stretching, scanning the sky.

Their arms made bird images, too - with elbows and wrists bent, and hands in finger-puppet shapes that pecked curiously at the air.

In another section, a regal couple (Yunna and Wang) wore big, white skirts with colored netting underneath (his pink, hers blue). In a slow-motion pas de deux, she was bound to him by some magnetic force in his arms - yet they only touched during a lift or two. When their bodies finally came together, a few young creatures emerged from behind their skirts.

The parents were then disposed of, but life continued via a nearly nude, raven-haired human - Zhao Liang - who crept across the stage hunched forward, on his toes. It was the most hopeful image of the night.

What Yunna did with birds, Rebecca Stenn did with lizards. Stenn is a former Pilobolus dancer who now has her own New York-based company, PerksDanceMusicTheater. Her solo Iguana was compelling for its articulated movements - sometimes on all fours, sometimes just head and arms that captured the cautious dartings of a creature at night. Bassist Jay Weissman and drummer Bernice Brooks, performing live, helped create a sophisticated atmosphere.

Three pas de deux were emotional swooners that left me hungry for more. They were from Kylian's Heart's Labyrinth, Martino Muller's Romeo & Juliet and Jean Grand-Maitre's Exilium. Kylian's masterwork, smoothly danced by the Norwegian National Ballet's Line Alsaker and Richard Suttie, did wonders with seemingly simple gestures and big lifts that created arcs of feeling. Alsaker's pink silk dress, with a skirt that twisted around her body, added to the sense of entrapment.

Ingrid Lorentzen and Ole Willy Falkhaugen, also of the Norwegian National, were gorgeous as survivors of some cataclysmic event in Exilium. Rei Watanabe and Mattias Suneson were passionately innocent in Muller's modern balcony scene for Sweden's Goteborg Ballet.

Of the hard-core abstract ballets, Forsythe's Herman Schmerman pas de deux was notable for the wit and spit of dancers Christophe Dozzi and Heidi Vierthaler. Stylistically, the dance was a sibling to the other Forsythe piece Houston audiences have seen recently, In the middle, somewhat elevated.

Alonzo King's LINES Ballet was smart and thrillingly swift in Tarab, which mixed Egyptian-inspired torsos and hands with thrilling bits of flight. The U.S. premiere of Christopher Bruce's Hurricane was marred by ear-splittingly loud music. Rambert Dance Company's Paul Liburd was marvelous, but Bob Dylan's ballad about a boxer accused of a murder, even at lower decibels, would not have lent itself well to dance.

Parts of the program will be repeated tonight, with other works, at 7:30 p.m. at Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 713-227-2787.

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