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Dance Salad Festival

By Nancy Wozny

Dance Salad Festival

Wortham Center, Cullen Theater
Houston, TX
April 21–23, 2011
Reviewed by Nancy Wozny


Daisy Phillips in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Faun. Photo by Amitava Sarkar. Courtesy DSF.

 

What a study in contrasts Beijing Dance/LDTX brought to this year's Dance Salad, which included 11 companies from 10 different countries. In excerpts from Sang Jijia's Standing Before Darkness, an anxious tribe of chair-bound dancers skitter just above the surface of the floor, or so it seems, never appearing to land fully. Like drops of oil spurting above a hot surface, they slide, glide, and fly on and off the stark white chairs with lightning speed. In excerpts from Cui Tao's Pilgrimage, we catch the dancers so deeply rooted to the ground that they appear to rise from it, mid-journey, on the way to some holy place. With cupped hands and deep pliés, the slow and wave-like dirge pulses forward with such reverence that we want to follow the dancers to their sacred destination.


For the third year in a row, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui won the wow factor, this time with Faun, his own version of the famous Stephane Mallerme poem, performed by his Belgium-based company, Eastman. The lush Debussy score may be familiar, but Cherkaoui's primal approach brings us to a rawer place, where his choices dare to push the boundaries of  movement, using inspiration from the natural world. Daisy Phillips and Daniel Proietto delivered a boneless and breathtakingly animalistic performance, turning themselves inside out, in what looked like impossible contortions. Faun concludes with Phillips and Proietto caught in a dead-still moment, like deer in the headlights.


Oksana Titove and Taavet Jansen's Dissolution for the Estonian National Ballet looked out of place. Marika Muiste and Anatoli Arhangelsky, strong technicians both, did their best to prop up the overly showy choreography, which resembled ice dancing.


Many of the pieces on the festival's three programs were especially curated by Dance Salad artistic director Nancy Henderek, who collaborates with each company and choreographer to select excerpts from a longer dance. Most of the time, it works extraordinarily well; she's been doing this for 16 years. Unfortunately, the process did not do justice to Jasmin Vardimon's Yesterday. The humor fell flat in the opening violent passage on the body and its diseases. The strong, grounded dancing that followed seemed unconnected to what came before, leaving the piece afloat and, ultimately, incoherent.


Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Locked Up Laura, for BJM Danse Montreal, explores a performer's nightmare: not being able to make it from the dressing room to the stage. Celine Cassone and James Gregg fully inhabit Ochoa's sinewy shapes, partnering with a potent connection. Cassone, with her endless legs and technical finesse, gave the piece its punch, but the voice-over felt heavy-handed.


Metamorphoses, performed by Ballet National de Marseille, paired Frederic Flamand's moves with Humberto and Fernando Campana's zany sculptures, inspired by Ovid's collection of mythological poems. Metamorphoses dwells in a futuristic world, where bodies are augmented with tubing and squiggly costume pieces. Amusing images eventually collapse into clutter in this busy ballet.


Zoran Markovic and Masa Kolar make a delightful pair of ballet clowns in  Stephan Thoss' No Cha-Cha-Cha. Imagine Dancing with the Stars with a heavy dose of character. The pair moved deeper into their chemistry in their own work, Bonet, which conjured the dark comedy of silent film stars and tragic mimes. Old-world and charismatic, Markovic and Kolar put their spark to work in both pieces, making it hard to take your eyes off them.