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March 21, 2008

A Feast for the Eyes

Festival offers smorgasbord of takes on love, life, death

By Molly Glentzer, Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle


The opening night of this year's Dance Salad Festival offered plenty of food for thought. Here are six tidbits I pondered after Thursday's program:

1. It's OK to hate your birthday. The mature — OK, old in dance years — members of Paradox On brought down the house without taking more than a few steps behind a big video screen and hopping a bit at a long table to music by Mozart in Jirí Kylián's BIRTH-DAY. The dance's five characters in Baroque finery and rumpled gray wigs are celebrating a birthday, the downside being that every birthday brings you closer to death. Sabine Kupferberg (Kylián's muse and partner), Gioconda Barbuto, David Krügel, Gérard LeMaitre and Egon Madsen made us feel the pain, in a fun way. The biggest laughs come in the videos that depict the characters as if they've retreated to other rooms in an imaginary castle, where they engage in desperate sex, valiant swordplay (with inside jokes for Kylián fans, who may recognize Petit Mort's fencing choreography) and a zany cake-baking session. The bite comes from the videos, too, as we see Sabine contemplating her age in a mirrored room. All of this could be very schlocky were it not for BIRTH-DAY's deft mix of the sharp and the light — even literally, with a shard of broken glass and feathers.

2. Death isn't really all that funny. Dances from Prague and Beijing offered atmospheric, ritualistic meditations on death. Petr Zuska's Among the Mountains for the National Ballet Theater, Prague, set to folk music by the Czech band Cechomor, utilized a dozen fine dancers in wine-colored costumes and gray "mountains" made of stacked boxes. With Kylián and Christopher Bruce-inspired movement, the dance bristled with energy.

Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Co. brought intense drama to the zen warrior aspects of Li Han-zhong and Ma Bo's The Cold Dagger. It was too long, given everything else on the program, but full of spectacularly-staged sections for a large ensemble of first-rate dance-actor-acrobats in beautiful stretch lace costumes of black and white. The final minute, unfortunately, spoils the mood: The dancers literally pick up the dance floor, leaving one girl on it, and it becomes a huge, golden wave. This is OK, but then the floor pops apart, noisily, at the perforated seams into small squares.

3. Articulated bodies are cool. Most of the night's dances offered at least a glimpse of bodies that crumpled or waved bone-by-bone. The National Ballet Theater, Prague made it humorous in the arm work and chicken struts of the early Kylián work Stamping Ground. Choreographer-dancer Yaroslav Ivanenko and Hélène Bouchet of Hamburg Ballet gave it beautiful tenderness in their duet Ne m'oublie pas (Don't Forget Me) — which also soared in more ecstatic moments with body-fused partnering. A coy Soraya Bruno and sexy Martin Buczkó made the shaky-body thing giddy, ticklish and loveable in Benvindo Fonseca's La Casa de Bernarda Alba.

4. Short is beautiful. Not as in legs, but as in minutes. Marcin Krajewski of the Polish National Opera Ballet zipped through Les Bourgeois, a solo by Ben Van Cauwenbergh to a Jacques Brel song. Krajewski has true star presence — He's suave, sleek and utterly light on his feet. Think Johnny Depp meets Rudolph Nureyev.

5. Big feet are beautiful. The oh-my-gosh, mile-long arches on Bouchet, who wore pointe shoes, and Bruno, who was barefoot, could've kept me engaged all night.

6. Chunky guys rock. The guys of National Ballet Theater, Prague and Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Co. make a powerful statement.


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