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Jack Anderson

Dutch Debut


Noord Nederlandse Dans
Baryshnikov Arts Center, 450 West 37th Street, Clinton
December 2-3, 2010 (closed)
Reviewed by Jack Anderson, December 5, 2010

Dancer Zina Zinckenko. Photo by Karel Zwaneveld.

Any dance troupe planning a New York debut must inevitably face the problem of what to present, a problem that is especially challenging if the company can offer only one program and not a repertory season. And should the group choose to dance a single long work, rather than several shorter ones on that program, it is taking great risks.

Noord Nederlandse Dans, the resident troupe of the Dutch city of Groningen, took such risks when it introduced itself here with the hour-long "Tidal."

Perhaps Stephen Shropshire, its choreographer, thought his choice was trendy. A press release stated that "Tidal" would contain "some summarized references to a homosexual interpretation of ‘Swan Lake’" Given the recent attention paid to the male swans in Matthew Bourne’s version of that ballet and the psycho-sexual complications of the film "Black Swan," kinky swans may be the rage these days. So no wonder "Tidal" was chosen. Yet it wasn’t kinky or coherent enough.

It began promisingly with a vocalist, Nynke Laverman, standing in shadows sighing wordlessly to an electronic score by Anne Parlevliet. Sighs gave way to words in English, and Laverman, with high piercing tones one moment and earthy, ones the next, became a major attraction of the production, as she told us "His father was a drinker, his mother cried in bed," and asked, "Are you one of them?," leaving the audience free to interpret "them" as it wished.

Two male dancers entered, one in white, one in black, presumably corresponding to the traditional "Swan Lake" dichotomy of White Swan (good), Black Swan (bad). They never touched or even drew very close together, yet their confrontation generated a measure of tension that promised to be intensified when a white-clad ensemble appeared with bending and twisting motions. Since this group included both men and women, it did not seem to be a flock of exclusively gay swans. Although its repeated steps grew somewhat lulling, the scene ended before boredom set in.

Photo by Karel Zwaneveld. 

Thuds introduced the second scene, in which some dancers entered crawling on their backs while others twisted. All were in black, and the men’s costumes, by Jorine van Beek, were both skimpy and sexy. The episode’s principal kinetic motif was a head and neck motion resembling pecking, often in an aggressive combative manner. But the basic significance of this scene stayed vague.

In the final scene, the male soloists of the opening approached each other with measured lunges, and the ensemble entered slowly. Laverman repeatedly sang, "I recognize you, I remember you," and "Tidal" achieved a calm, but far from poignant or meaningful, resolution.

Looking at Shropshire’s choreography, it became easy to wonder, "What’s the point of all this?" Implicitly dramatic sequences stayed undeveloped, and episodes of potentially intense energy remained too mild.

Last year, Shropshire, a Miami-born, Juilliard-trained choreographer, became director of the nine-member Groningen company, which was founded in 1997. One wonders what his other works are like. "Tidal" aroused interest without also generating excitement.

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