Les SlovaKs Dance Collective, Switzerland

Les SlovaKs Dance Collective, Switzerland

Les SlovaKs Dance Collective

Opening Night
Cinema Teatro di Chiasso
Chiasso, Switzerland
December 10, 2009

 Les SlovaKs Dance Collective

The five guys standing onstage look as if they’ve rolled into the theatre from various day jobs.  They’ve changed out of their work clothes and into some whacked-out amalgam of polyester slacks and snap-button shirts accessorized with pom-poms.  It looks as if they forgot to brush their hair, although at least one of them is not scruffy.  He shaved off all his hair, which highlights some expressive eyes.  These dudes are too young to be retro or hip.  They are something else entirely.  Their pants have zigzags of colored duct tape; a blue collar man’s best fix-it friend.  One, the tallest, who looks like a blond Jesus, has made an outline of his crotch with green duct tape.  You want to go out with them and drink something.  The night is young.

I present the wonderfully unassuming Les SlovaKs Dance Collective:  Milan Herich, Anton Lachky, Milan Tomasik, Peter Jasko, and Martin Kilvady.  All hail from Slovakia and are accompanied in their work “Opening Night” by Simon Thierrée, a French violinist who specializes in the music of Eastern Europe.  Those costumes were designed by Matt Voorter and Pepa Martinez.

“Opening Night” begins, as described, with everyone standing about, modeling the latest Eurowear, watching the audience filter into the theatre.  Or maybe the piece begins when the one I call Jesus raises his arm and forefinger high in the air.  This motif returns again and again, often with a yell.  The troupe forms a line straight across the stage and sings a guttural, folk song.

Or maybe the real start of “Opening Night” is the full-blown, no holds barred movement.  If they could not deliver luscious, slinky, sliding, and crawling, and all the best of contact improvisational partnering, we would not laugh at the madness that ensues.  We would only be concerned for their sanity.  Even so, we are a little bit concerned when the thumping fist hits straight on top of the beating heart and grabs the source away.  Yet because each member has unique, individual dance motion, his own autonomy, we feel free to enter the spoofed world that is “Opening Night.”

That world includes solos, duets, trios, and some finely patterned quintet group work.  It’s a relief to watch full movement; the theatricality here is all in the expressive body.  It’s as if each had been trained as a clown initially, but then decided to form a modern dance troupe instead of a postmodern circus.  In reality, the five were trained in folk dances and knew each other and danced together in Slovakia as kids.  They formed their group as adults, in Belgium, but surely the sense of play comes from this shared childhood and cultural history.

The program notes emphasized the inclusion of folk dance in “Opening Night,” but if these are folk dances, I’d say that The Onion is The New York Times.  What we have here is a parody of folk dance that unleashes massive goofball fun.  The big guy raps the little guy on the head, and the little guy does a line dance.  We go from a frog jut to a bug crawl, and next we’re served another round of drinks.  And those smacks on the head and the rear?  They are brief:  an accent on male autonomy or a comment on male aggressiveness or a friendly hello.  I’m not sure.  A few lifts, some of the partnering, are on the edge of safe, which made the piece exciting and breathless.  Just wait until the finger snapping comes.  Happiness ensues.  Stamping follows the violin solo, perhaps the most serious section of the evening.  Has everyone had enough to drink?

If I had not had such a good time, and laughed so much, I might have two criticisms of “Opening Night”.  One is that during the ensemble dancing, the electronic mixed music overshadows the live violinist, even, at times, drowning out his plaintive call.  How much more vulnerable would every man appear if we could hear the violin the entire time?  Trust the source, I want to say.  Second, the piece did not know how to end.  But how does a group wind down from so much fun?  Just exit?  That might be a solution.

Except, no one wanted Les SlovaKs to leave.  After countless bows (I lost count at five), they again formed a straight line across the front of the stage.  An arm and forefinger was lifted high.  They sang us a deep, guttural, folk song.  How scruffy sweet is that?

Renée E. D’Aoust

Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For culturevulture.net, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."