Sunday, March 24, 2013

Ways of Walking

DanceHouse's fifth season ended last night with an energetic walk on the wild side of contemporary dance. Carte Blanche, the Bergen-based Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance, presented Corps de Walk, by red-hot Israeli duo Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar (she is resident choreographer for Batsheva Dance Company and he is an in-demand video, music, and performance artist). Set to a driving electronic score by DJ Ori Lichtik, this relentless 60-minute pushing of the limits of unison is as high on concept as it is on technique.

Using a "system of walks" as the architectural basis for her movement vocabulary, Eyal is clearly referencing in the title of the piece the traditional corps de ballet, the army of anonymous dancers who don't get to electrify with their virtuosic jumps and pirouettes and lifts, but without whose expert execution of the "simpler" steps a work would be unrecognizable as classical ballet. Those steps require a strong inner body core (a grounded pelvic floor combined with an elongated spine), and from the opening tableau of the Carte Blanche ensemble standing in a circle, arms stretched above their heads like tree branches, to the patterned use of deep pliés throughout the work, Eyal is drawing our attention--almost in a Labanesque, eukinetic way--to the very bodily mechanics of walking, on or off the stage. Finally, in terms of puns on the word "corps," there's the ghosted "e" we are wont to append to the end,  not least as Eyal and Behar send the Carte Blanche dancers out on stage clad uniformly in flesh-toned, skin-hugging lyotards, their hair likewise painted white, and, most eerily, sporting white contact lenses. Combined with the deliberately robotic movement patterns--the precise head turns, foot pivots, hip thrusts, finger splays, elbow bends, pelvic tilts--that keep repeating at a steady pace as the dancers move into and out of different group formations (often initiated by shouted commands by one or another of them), at times it's almost as if we're watching an episode of The Walking Dead.

And yet as much as the costumes and choreography emphasize sameness over difference (the hallmark of any great ballet dancer being the ability to perform flawlessly the same steps over and over again), for me the absolute indexicality of these dancing bodies (and pointing with index fingers becomes an important recurrent motif throughout the piece) broke down the longer the piece went on. All thirteen Carte Blanche dancers are on stage for almost the entire duration of the piece, and the longer we look at them moving together the more we are able to see how they likewise move apart. And I'm not just referring to the fact that the dancers are different shapes and sizes, that, for example, one of the male dancers is black, another bald, and one has a mustache. Rather, I refer to the fact that one of the things that remains so entrancing about a corps de ballet, like the ballet performed every day by hundreds of pedestrians crossing a busy intersection, is that while we may all be moving with the same purpose and intention, even in something as habitual as walking one cannot help but distinguish personality in form.


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