Who would have thought that the land of canals and wooden shoes would connect so perfectly with the city known for its bridges and steel? Yet, for a short time on Saturday night at the Byham Theater, they all came together in an explosion of pop culture, accentuated by a gaggle of Andy Warhol wannabes.
It was the official opening of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Distinctively Dutch Festival, which was given a touch of glamour in opening remarks by Trust president and CEO Kevin McMahon and Dutch ambassador Renee Jones-Bos.
Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras was given the nod to lead off things with "Anatomica," a celebration of the body in no uncertain terms. Mr. Gingras has only been indulging in dance-making for a little more than a decade.
But his success has been quick, with commissions from Netherlands Dans Theatre and famed theatrical producer Robert Wilson and his appointment as DWR artistic director in 2010.
Some of his work was raw dance meat, thrown in your face, like masturbation and peekaboo body exposure found in the beginning segment of "Anatomica." It was both daring and daredevil, with gymnastic feats.
Occasionally it could be unfiltered and incessant, which may have pushed a few audience buttons. But before "Anatomica" became too relentless, Mr. Gingras had the wherewithal and intelligence to temper it, taking the opening chorus line of nine dancers, chanting and whooping, and funneling it down into a brilliant theatrical solo focusing on "you," then tapering it off to a slow-motion kiss.
Part 1 also featured an online chat sequence, which could be uncomfortable, a tribal dance and mating rituals. Mr. Gingras' global preferences were occasionally in need of editing. But he was simply holding a mirror to society, bringing a real-world sensibility into the rarefied world of art.
Actually you might say that this was the most American of the European companies that the Pittsburgh Dance Council has presented and he was holding that mirror to the pop culture that we spawned. Is that the way we are seen in other countries?
The second section was actually more traditional, more pure movement. It exhibited some of his skills like canons and a deft way of channeling the traffic flow of dance, relying on mats and a large ramp at one corner of the stage.
It began on an amusing note, with "Andy Warhol," clad in a white wig and black turtleneck outfit, mincing his way through the audience with a camera. He took to the stage with a simple dance, one where he was joined by the others, similarly dressed.
Pop culture, indeed.
In this section, the fearless performers toyed with the ramp and became faux bodybuilders before the ultimate flurry of dismounts. And when one dancer ran to the top and stood teetering on the precipice in the glow of a small spot of light, it summed up the whole Gingras philosophy -- to live (and dance) life on the edge.
One thing was for certain: "Anatomica" made a great opening night impact on a large and savvy audience and allowed the Distinctly Dutch Festival literally to hit the ground running. Next up is "Detroit Dealers," probably a whole other take on the American dream.