'Last Touch First' puts skills of older dancers on display
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At one point artistic director Jiri Kylian had three companies at Nederlans Dans Theater, most commonly labeled NDT 1, NDT 2 and NDT 3. The first was the main company, the second a stepping stone for young dancers and the third served to accommodate master performers over the age of 40.
After all, some dancers still have much to say well on into their 60s (think Baryshnikov or any number of Japanese Kabuki and Indian dancers). This group instigated choreography designed to suit their changing bodies as well as their increasing intellectual and emotional prowess. It proved to be a novel and critically successful concept for NDT, but, alas, one that could only get financial backing from 1991 to 2006.
But good ideas never die, or fade away. They just change direction and are reborn.
Now we have "Last Touch First," presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council last weekend at the August Wilson Center, and a project in itself that continues to give life to the original NDT 3 concept.
Mr. Kylian provided an NDT duet, "Last Touch," that played out first (hence the title). And most of the six-member cast had roots in one or all of the NDT companies.
Joining with Michael Schumacher, Mr. Kylian expanded the idea to three couples, just about the perfect size to accommodate the emotional tone inspired by Anton Chekhov's plays.
Loneliness. Despair. Rejection.
The atmosphere was charged from the outset. When the lights came up on Friday night, we saw a sepia-toned family portrait, so perfectly posed, so formal. The players/dancers, dressed in Victorian garb, were arranged on an all-white set, which included a mirror, a door, a window and several pieces of furniture on a rumpled, even turbulent, white cloth that covered the floor.
The effect was ghostly, tapping traces of their memories -- and our own -- as a man began to move, a hand reached out, then a woman rearranged a tablecloth.
Slowly, furtively, they were about to unveil a secret.
For virtually half of the hour-long piece, the trio of couples performed the intimacies of their pas de deux (more like an extended adagio section) in the isolation of their own private space -- one a sexual duet around a table, the second involving a book (perhaps symbolizing knowledge), and the third alcohol-induced, involving control of a chair. Perhaps it was all about control.
All of a sudden they started to interact, a subtle but seismic shift.
You became aware that it was a controlled chaos as well. A few flurries of movement occasionally erupted. Some of the lifts were awkwardly draped. One woman was lifted to the top of the door jamb (her partner was under the floor cloth) where she regally perched as if to survey the unfolding panorama.
All of that tapped the ironic sense of humor that threads its way through Chekhov, although it was difficult to get past the sadness and moving poetry of it all.
One woman walked to the back while the others literally pulled the floor from underneath her feet -- and the furniture with it -- towards the front of the stage. At the end they reiterated their opening poses, but the landscape, both inner and outer, had been irrevocably changed.
First Published April 9, 2012 12:00 am