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Dance history in action - Dance On Ensemble performs iconic works, with contemporary responses

That Julidans is experiencing a strong edition was actually already evident with the bold and delightful opening night. That performance invited reflection on what dance is. Making Dances - Dancing Replies makes you think about the same question, but in a very different way.

Dance On Ensemble, the Berlin-based company with dancers over 40, presented works by 3 iconic dance innovators with responses from contemporary artists. What is the eloquence of a piece from 1937? Or something last performed in 1979? It was not a nostalgic evening, the pieces by Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham and Lucinda Childs are too unapproachable for that. It was, however, a reacquaintance with these 3 greats of dance history. And with responses from contemporary artists.

Miki Orihara opened with Martha Graham's Deep Song, a short piece in Graham's distinctive dance language, revolutionary in its time. Created in 1937, Deep Song aimed to be a response to the Spanish Civil War. The movements are not graceful or decorative, expressing the intense emotions of war in angular and almost contorted forms that seem to come from the pelvis. Having danced with the Martha Graham Company for 30 years as a solo dancer, Orihara knows the work inside out. It is wonderful to see how she executes each movement with precision, as if the dance is ingrained in her body. And yet it feels fresh and relevant.


A neon installation by Tim Etchells provided the answer to Graham's choreography. The phrases of Garcia Lorca's poem Ay! on which Deep Song is based blinked on and off. Everything in the world is broken. Nothing but silence remains.
In the week when a journalist dies of gunshot wounds to the head, climate change is causing dozens of deaths and missing persons, and thousands of people are infected, these sentences arrive. For me, they are the answer to why I look at art. We are still capable of beauty. All is broken, but not lost.


That resilience is also reflected in the other works. The beautiful Story by Merce Cunningham, the 3 works by Lucinda Childs that have not been performed since the 1970s. But especially in the dancers themselves. Long past the point where they still have to be competitive or prove themselves, the joy splashes off the stage. Especially in the 3 pieces without music by Childs, this is infectious. The 3 pieces are performed with tremendous naturalness, with the dancers making the rhythm. The crashing trainers form the percussive score, no more is needed.

Flawlessly matched and endlessly counting, the dancers exude a zest for life. But also experience: minimalist choreography hinges on precise execution. These six dancers have that experience and the knowledge of dance history to put themselves at the service of dance. No egos, but an ensemble that exudes strength, vulnerability, beauty and resilience as a collective precisely because the dancers no longer have to prove themselves.

Marble mine

The response by artists Ginavra Panzetti and Enrico Ticconi focuses on Childs' architecturalism, the movement of bodies in space. the bodies make movements and shapes, they use the space and the space shapes itself around them. The dancers' hands are powdered with lime, so that each movement is marked by round dusting of white powder. Marmo is based on a marble mine, both as a collective event -there is plenty of power struggle and violence in the piece- and in the shaping of space by people. The dancers wave each other through the space like traffic controllers, wrestling each other to the ground, forming figures. The score makes it palpable, industrial sounds slowly warping from the sound of pebbles into a dark, driving soundscape. Interesting to see what a younger generation of creators is getting out of the work of an iconic dance innovator.

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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