Review: Torrents of Emotion in a Dance Dish Served Cold | Modern Society of USA

Review: Torrents of Emotion in a Dance Dish Served Cold

Review: Torrents of Emotion in a Dance Dish Served Cold

Arnold Schoenberg’s 1899 “Verklärte Nacht” (“Transfigured Night”) is a tempest of emotion. Inspired by a poem about a woman walking with the man she loves in a cold, moonlit forest, guiltily confessing that she is pregnant with another man’s child, the composition surges and crests, pushing late-Romantic musical language toward a breaking point. To many dance fans, it is the sound of Antony Tudor’s 1942 ballet “Pillar of Fire,” a Freudian drama of sex and repression. People don’t often make dances like that anymore.

But at Baryshnikov Arts Center in Manhattan on Wednesday, the Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s company, Rosas, presented the New York debut of her “Verklärte Nacht.” A 2014 revision for three dancers of a 1995 ensemble work, it is intensely faithful to the score, its emotional dynamics and the situation of the poem. It’s not a ballet, though. It’s barefoot modern dance, so loaded with contraction and release that it could almost be from the 1930s.

It begins in silence, with a prologue. In the chilly illumination of a single moonlike light, a woman (Cynthia Loemij) and a man (Igor Shyshko) enact a quick scene of passion and then exit the stage in reverse. After a while, the woman returns and repeats the scene with another man (Bostjan Antoncic) as the first man hovers like a shadow. They all leave, and the second couple returns, remaining on stage for the rest of the 40-minute work. (Mr. Shyshko has traveled from Belgium just to establish the dramatic problem.)

Even before the music — a Pierre Boulez recording — starts, the drama is clear. Mr. Antoncic stands in the dim rear, his back to us and to Ms. Loemij. Tentatively, she approaches him, leaning in, then reeling backward and collapsing on the ground. With her head snapped back, she looks like she’s experiencing Emily Dickinson’s definition of poetry: “as if the top of my head were taken off”. Trailing a wrist along the floor, she squats, a splayed-knee motion, suggestive of sex and childbirth and isolation, that we’ll see again and again.

When the music kicks in, Ms. De Keersmaeker represents its emotions as physical forces: gravity, momentum. Mr. Antoncic stays still, and Ms. Loemij orbits around him, attracted and repulsed, speeding and slowing, running and rolling in circles. When a change in the music seems to impel him to join her, the rolling dynamic expands to include jumps and catches that send both dancers spinning. They come together; they pull away. Like people in a bind.

It’s a good thing that Mr. Antoncic and Ms. Loemij are beautiful movers with the subtlety of veteran dancers (she’s been with Rosas since 1991), because the relentlessness of the choreography, running and rolling in circles, is wearying. Ms. De Keersmaeker does what the music does, but there’s something dutiful about her approach.

She follows the score into structural intimations of hope. Bits of Mr. Antoncic’s manly, straight-line solo connect to Ms. Loemij’s motifs. Tenderly but still roughly, the two dance in unison, that old marker of union, and when she places his hand on her belly, he lifts her to bring her womb close to his face.

Yet where the poem ends with acceptance, the warmth of love transfiguring all and the troubled lovers walking off together, Ms. Loemij leaves Mr. Antoncic alone, reeling ambiguously. Despite the torrents of emotion, this “Verklärte Nacht” retains an analytic aftertaste, closer to Dickinson’s other definition of poetry: “so cold no fire can warm me.”

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