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Dance Salad Festival

By Nancy Wozny

Wortham Center, Cullen Theater

Houston, TX

March 28–30, 2013

 

 

The very first movement of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's “Petrus” excerpt of PUZ/ZLE, performed by dancers from his company Eastman, constitutes a fake out. A burly man seemingly hurls a rock straight into the audience. Happily, the rock never leaves his hand. He tries once more. Again, the rock wins out. Cherkaoui, the master of movement illusion, proceeds to make us believe that the rock pulls the punches in Damien Fournier's arresting solo. Fournier's physicality transcends the usual dancer-ish virtuosity, settling in more circus arts and pure grounded-ness. He never lets us forget that he is a man, and for now, one stuck to a stubborn rock.

 

Petrus by Amitava Sarkar

Damien Fournier
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Dance Salad

 

After he finally breaks the bond, an upstage rock pile begins to tremble,  revealing a human arm, later the entire white-powdered body of Sang-Hun Lee, inching through the rock rubble like a snake. Like Fournier, Lee moves from a more global tradition, with shades of yoga and contortionist in his bones. He twists and tangles himself into impossible knots, until he rests at Fournier's feet, initiating an exquisite duet. It's in this passage that the piece begins to take on momentum in such a way that we want to see more.

 

Fournier handles Lee's body like a precious cloth, wiping his own body with Lee's skin, rendering him seemingly weightless. The duet is tender, evoking the power of touch, healing, and connection across time. The lights dim as the two sit face to face as in resolve, soaking up each other's gaze.

 

Petrus, by Amitava Sarkar, Dance Salad

Fournier and Sang-Hun Lee in Cherkaoui's "Petrus" excerpt
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Dance Salad

 

Dance Salad artistic director Nancy Henderek put the Moroccan Belgium-based choreographer on the map for Houston dance watchers, who have grown to expect a Cherkaoui piece on the annual Dance Salad bill. The “Petrus” excerpt delivered all the usual goods: global music played onstage by tribe of superb  musicians, a mind-bending film excerpt to set an ancient tone, and a movement vocabulary that exceeds the boundaries of modern and ballet.

 

Like most longer works on the Dance Salad bill, Cherkaoui's work has been truncated especially for the festival. Although the excerpt proved mostly satisfying, one can't help wishing to have seen more, especially considering the largesse of Cherkaoui's themes.

 

Petrus, by Amitava Sarkar, Dance Salad

Lee (left) and Fournier in the "Petrus" excerpt
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Dance Salad

 

More freakish delights were found in La Veronal's performance of Marcos Morau's excerpt of Moscow/Russia. Lorena Nogal and Inma Asensio made for two sublimely grotesque dance clowns, tangling their limbs into knots while they whimpered and smirked. Equal parts funny and disturbing, Moscow/Russia ultimately left a dark sting.

 

Other highlights of the festival included London's HeadSpaceDance members Charlotte Broom and Christopher Akrill's jubilant performance of Mats Ek’s Light Beings. The couple revels in Ek’s earthy silliness like children, which they are not. They are middle-aged dancers skipping to Sibelius' Andante Festivo with a cheeky, carefree verve.

 

Joining them in the lighter mood were the sole Americans on the program, Uri Sands and Katelyn Skelley from TU Dance in Sands’ whimsical, brief High Heel Blues, one of the few pieces seen in its entirety. The Polish National Ballet, making their Salad debut, offered four works, of which Robert Bondara's trio excerpt of his minimalist Persona, proved the strongest. Set to Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, it follows a delicate love triangle as Pawel Koncewoj and Sebastian Solecki share Aleksandra Liashenko and a T-shirt.

 

Pictured at top: Damien Fournier and Sang-Hun Lee in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's "Petrus" excerpt of PUZ/ZLE
Photo by Amitava Sarkar, Courtesy Sarkar