Moving in diverse directions
Swedish troupe makes US debut
BECKET — The Göteborg Ballet has declared that it is moving away from its classical roots, preferring the “contemporary’’ banner. However it wants to describe itself, the Swedish company, making its US debut this week at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, is simply fabulous.
Under the direction of Johannes Öhman, the dancers’ considerable classical training is, in fact, a defining characteristic, as is the fluid largesse of their movement.
Though the program, titled “3xBolero’’ has a connecting thread — themes and variations on Maurice Ravel’s iconic composition — the three dances by three choreographers are refreshingly diverse. The musical accompaniment, too, is varied: The familiar orchestration of “Bolero’’ appears but once, and even then it is interrupted, yet it is clearly the inspirational force. One dance, “Walking Mad,’’ explores the music’s sinuous heat, while “OreloB’’ is driven by the score’s underbelly of hypnotically metronomic percussion; “Episode 17’’ gives itself over to the crashing wildness of the music’s inevitably cacophonous ending.
Johan Inger’s 2001 “Walking Mad’’ is a luscious glut of physical imagery, both in the set — a backyard fence that can be moved and morphed into different shapes and orientations — and in the dancing itself. The nine performers splay or writhe against the fence, the floor, each other. The partnering has roots in contact improvisation, but without the too-often (to my mind, anyway) insubstantive obviousness of the genre. This is more than weight-sharing or weight-bearing: Bodies seem to absorb into each other, the intimacy palpable. Excitingly, this indicates that the art of the pas de deux has a place in the 21st century.
There is much that is mad — or at least, goofy — in the piece, and playfulness abounds, but there are also hints of violence, frustration, and loss. Sometimes the fence, with its secret doors and surprising ability to be placed flat, conjures a vaudevillian farce; the fence is also metaphor for division, for imprisonment. The duet that ends the piece is, like the Arvo Pärt music it’s set to, wrenchingly plaintive and beautiful, with Heather Telford and Hokuto Kodama ultimately unable to connect.
In contrast, the dancers in the 2008 piece “OreloB,’’ choreographed by Kenneth Kvarnstrom, are coolly glamorous and compellingly emotionless. The piece nearly spills over into postmodern cliche, with Helena Hörstedt’s almost ridiculous costumes (short black unitards coupled with sheer black poufs that are worn like vests, boas, or tutus) and Jukka Rintamäki’s eerie industrial-electronic score. But the movement is wonderfully strange, even fetishistic. The five dancers are robotically virtuosic — by turns exotic fish, cyborg-like porn stars, or nonchalant runway models. Even the at times purposely stiff or staccato movement is rendered gorgeous and buttery by the Swedes, whose increasing riskiness and speed is breathtaking to see.
Alexander Ekman’s crazy 2008 romp “Episode 17’’ confirms that this company can do anything, including deadpan comedy and earnest whimsy. The piece’s escapades for 17 bewigged performers are hugely entertaining, and in one particular episode, choreographically brilliant, with a long diagonal of dancers moving between breaks in which they mutter and gesture, showing specifics of particular steps like obsessive ballet teachers. This is great stuff; if you don’t have your tickets yet, hurry.
Janine Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.