April 5, 2007
at Dance Salad
By Molly Glentzer, Copyright 2007 Houston Chronicle
Mama mia. Whew! I'm still humming those Italian songs, and my
legs -- heck, torso and arms and head and feet and hands, too --
want to bust loose.
I hate to resort to food analogies when reviewing Dance Salad
Festival shows, but Compagnia Alterballetto's Cantata is like a
big ol' bowl of fusilli pasta swimming in garlic, onions and tomatoes
-- twisted, squiggly and saucy.
"Extracts" from Cantata brought Thursday's
festival opener to a rousing end. By far the most fun night I
can remember in many years of watching Nancy Henderek's annual
international dance showcase.
Imagine a folk dance-swing fest-sock hop-hoedown by 10 amazing
dancers who personify the spirit of traditional Southern Italian
music performed live by a female quartet called Gruppo Musicale
Download music by this group if you can find a recording. Armed
with an organetto (a small accordion), a tammora (a huge tamborine),
castanets and tamborines -- not to mention voices that rumble from
the center of the earth, Gruppo Musicale Assurd is like a hearty
female Italian version of the Buena Vista Social Club.
Choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, the director of Italy's premier
dance touring company, has a quirky style that uses every sinew
in his dancers' bodies. (Houston's Dominic Walsh Dance Theater
will present more work by Bigonzetti in May.)
There's a WHOLE lot going on from head to toe, but early on, Cantata involves a lot of hilariously grotesque hand gestures. In the equally-amusing
WAM, set to Mozart -- Bigonzetti puts the attention on his dancers'
amazing feet, which hold onto their high arches even when they're
seriously flexed. The footwork also includes some Trocadero-inspired,
stylized tap and stomping -- referencing court dance posturing,
of course -- when the men wear Louis XIV-style heels (what better
to go with tailcoats and fanny-exposing thongs?).
Bigonzetti's dancers pull off heart-stopping projectile-like lifts
and tosses that are unorthodox and funny. The women also spend
a lot of time with their ankles wrapped around the men's necks,
backs or thighs, while their torsos snake around.
Two spectacular dancers from Russia's Bolshoi Ballet got wound
up and unwound, too -- in Alexei Ratmansky's Middle
Duet, a contemporary
ballet so inventive I wanted to cry. Why can't all choreographers
be this original?
Middle Ground offers an enticing glimpse of the new Bolshoi, capable
of speedy and sharp abstraction in a confined space. The young
Ratmansky, director of ballet at the Bolshoi Theater since 2004,
could be the Balanchine that won't slip away from his home country.
Expect to hear a lot more about soloist Natalia Osipova and her
partner, Andrey Merkuriev.
Middle Duet takes off from the winding gear
sound in its Yuri Khanin music, offering delightful movement
surprises with each measure. (What about those "time lapse" lowerings
-- I can't think of any other way to describe them -- as Merkuriev
brought Osipova to the floor from high lifts, pausing at several
levels before letting her touch ground again?)
The dancers (mainly Osipova, supported by Merkuriev)
never does anything that looks so obvious as a wind-up toy or
even a corkscrew -- she's tightly-wound mentally and physically.
And the ending is a revelation: after both dancers have exhausted
themselves and collapsed like tossed fabric, they pull themselves
up with Herculean effort and start the choreography over again.
Here, suddenly, the "wind-up" metaphor
becomes intriguingly concrete.
Son Yea-Ran and Lee Jae-Jun of Korea's Kim Eun-Hee Dance Company
were mesmerizing in Burying Together, an intense dance that seemed
like a hybrid of traditional Oriental dance and hard-core spasmodic
modernism. It suggested a ritual involving surrender, domination
and some mysterious state of union. Although maybe it was a funeral,
given the altarlike set. The dancers wore elaborately slit white
robes with pointed hoods. Early on, when the movement was enigmatic
and minimal, they held small wooden blocks in the palms of their
hands, making clacking sounds. When they finally touched -- for
a split second -- something electric ignited, and the tension became
Then there were the effortless northern Europeans,
in slick duets that celebrated bodies and form. Annebelle Lopez' La
Ballet du Grand Theatre de Geneve's beautiful Celine Cassone and
Bruno Roy, was a super follow to the Koreans. It, too, began with
religious overtones -- something medieval by Hildegard von Bingen
-- as Cassone evoked a figure both vulnerable and powerful.
Natasa Novotna and Vaclav Kunes, dancing for the Kylian Foundation,
breezed through a duet from Jiri Kylian's now-classic Petite
Mexico's Compania Nacional de Danza rounded out the evening with
Nellie Happee's Merejada, a seaside reverie en pointe, and a duet
from Alberto Alonso's Carmen Suite.
The Dance Salad Festival continues at 7:30 p.m. today
and Saturday at the Wortham Theater Center, 501 Texas. The program
is slightly different each night, and will feature additional companies.
Tickets are $19-$47, available at www.dancesalad.org or 877-772-5425.
to Concert 2007