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Sasha Waltz and Guests' Impromtus weighty contemporary dance

by Joanna G. Harris
October 24, 2014
Zellerbach Hall
Bancroft Way at Telegraph
(2430 Bancroft Ave.)
Berkeley, CA 94704
510.642.9988
Joanna G. Harris
Author, Beyond Isadora: Bay Area Dancing, 1916-1965. Regent Press, Berkeley, CA, 2009. Contributor to reviews on culturevulture.net
Sasha Waltz and Guests at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall October 24 and 25 offered the contemporary dance program Impromtus set to a selection of nine of Schubert's impromptus and art songs.

The work intrigued and sometimes baffled the audience. The intrigue was the juxtaposition of Schubert's romantic music against an extremely modernistic set and the unique dance energy of the dancers. For this reviewer who had studied German dance with followers of Mary Wigman and Hanya Holm and worked with a variety of "release" techniques, the movement energy was familiar. For others, used to the extended stretch, balletic expression and acrobatic feats of today's dance, the work communicated little.

Let me explain. I was fortunate to take class that morning with company member Michal Mualem. The class exercises and phrases stressed the development and execution of movement including "weight" (light and heavy), away and toward the ground and the use of momentum in swings, lifts, falls, jumps and locomotion. Some modern dance choreographers (particularly Doris Humphrey) used similar approaches, although often combined with ballet postures.

The dance of Sasha Waltz and Guests seems always to be built from this "momentum" approach, whether in partner work (lifts, falls, balances, etc) or in any individual's solos. It is a fascinating form to watch, as each phrase develops. However, it tends to remain contained within the dancer's internal focus and spatial scope. Thus, without concentrated attention from the viewer, it does not altogether reach its audience.

The set, by Thomas Schenk and Sasha Waltz, consists of two platforms, each on a different level and backed by a large swinging board, almost the size of the platforms. Dancers enter and exit from behind and under the platforms, executing solo work in one place or joining other dancers in imitative ensemble or contrasting movement.

There are often duets, man and woman, two men, two women and sometimes a trio, lifting, balancing and climbing on and around one another. To one of Schubert's"impromptu's," the company just runs and runs around through and over both platforms.

Exquisite duets were performed by Michal Mualem with Luc Dunberry and later by Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnola and Nianian Zhou. These duets seem to echo the sentiments of the Schubert works, the texts of which were well known poems of Schiller, Heine and Goethe. One piece - "Des Madchens Klage," Op. 58, No. 3 - was sung by mezzo-soprano Ruth Sandhoff. There was not dance accompaniment to that work.

As is clear from the various company names, the group is very international coming from multiple dance disciplines.

That they constructed such a completely unifying sense of movement discipline and ensemble is to be congratulated and appreciated. The dancers are Juan Kruz Diaz de Garaio Esnaola/ Xuan Shi
Michal Mualem/ Luc Dunberry, Xuan Shi, Niannian Zhou, Juan Kruz, Yael Schnell, Michal Mualem and Zaratiana Randrianantenaina. The three men and four women shared equal weight for the most part in all duets and trios.

One remarkable section consisted of two female dancers taking short baths in a center 'dug-out' on stage. They were soon joined by a third, Michal Mualem, who had executed a long complex solo. She too enjoyed a short tub after her performance. This is certainly 'contemporary' work, perhaps not in current American directions, but certainly experimenting thoroughly with style, technique and performance.

Credits are due to Cristina Marton, piano, Beate Borrmann, costumes, Martin Hank, lighting and certainly to Sasha Waltz, choreographer and her most accomplished guests.
Sasha Waltz and Guests' 'Impromtus'.

Sasha Waltz and Guests' "Impromtus".

Photo © & courtesy of Sebastian Bolesch

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