National Dance Company Wales, on tour (International Dance Festival Switzerland)
National Dance Company Wales in Stijn Celis’s “Form”
(Photograph by Roy Campbell-Moore)
(National Dance Company Wales is the new name of the company formerly known as Diversions)
STEPS #12 International Dance Festival Switzerland
The Migros Culture Percentage Dance Festival
May 4, 2010
It is one thing to live in a world of distraction and to try to make sense of it. It is another thing entirely to give up trying. The three works presented by National Dance Company Wales as part of the STEPS International Dance Festival were all choreographed by accomplished names, but the three showed varying degrees of success in grappling with our global culture of distraction.
Stijn Celis is the former director of the Bern Ballet, so it is fitting that the National Dance Company Wales would present his work for their Swiss tour. Bern is the capital of Switzerland, while Celis himself is Belgian. He is both a choreographer and a set designer, and this may be why Celis’s “Form” feels like an architectural ballet, with streaming lines and patterns that subtly support the movement, which is athletically pleasing yet still grounded in a cool sensibility. The musical mix is sometimes odd, especially since the choreographer calls the alternating score “American minimalist”; I do not see how that phrase can refer to any score that includes music by James Brown. But Celis offers a great deal to think about. He creates distracting situations that make us realize how often we choose mitigated experience over reality. A dancer crosses a straight arm over her belly, drops sideways into a lunge and forward into a back roll. Did you notice? Or were you too busy reading the scrolling illuminated text held by the other dancer?
The text comes from “Will Happiness Find Me?”, by Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss. It could be the inner thoughts of the dancer; however, these words in red force one to make a choice. Where is my attention? How do I navigate in a world of distraction? Celis makes us realize how often we turn away from what is real—the dancer—to the distraction—in this case, the text. I found myself reading several scrolls while yet another person spun her heart out, splattering sweat on the stage. There are some good questions, though: “Am I my soul’s sleeping bag?” “Have I ever been completely awake?” “What does my dog think?”
Stijn Celis uses the supremely modern dancers of the National Dance Company Wales extraordinarily well. These dancers are clearly trained in the grounding of modern dance without the intervention of ballet’s lift. Gravity is their mentor; the floor, their friend. They are intriguing to watch because of their different shapes and sizes and ways of being in the world.
National Dance Company Wales specializes in commissioning choreographers to create new work. “Veil of Stars,” by Greek choreographer Andonis Foniadakis, lets these dancers throw caution to the wind or, in this case, to the stars. Some of the ensemble sections needed more variance to convey another world, but when the masks (beautifully created by Nia Thomson) crumble and the dancers continue again, the piece is most successful. Foniadakis uses the strengths of this company—risk-taking, partnering, full commitment to the floor—to show humans who continue on in the face of the unknown.
It must be a choreographer’s dream to land with these fine dancers; unfortunately, UK-based Nigel Charnock’s “Lunatic” wastes such an opportunity. Yes, this is a crazy world, but do we really need to hear people screaming and laughing at high pitch to get the point? It just reminds me, yet again, that most dancers have very little breath or vocal training. These dancers are stunning, and I prefer not to notice that any of their talents are limited. Amidst plentiful walking to the sound of sirens, we see a cross dresser slam down a chair as well as allusions to war with raised straight-arm salutes. Charnock’s attempt to straddle the line between dance and theatre fails, and “Lunatic” is only grating throughout.
Renée E. D’Aoust