Sasha Waltz at Cal Performances

19 Nov

Sasha Waltz and Guests appeared at U.C.’s Zellerbach October 24, 2014 with her 2004 work Impromptu, featuring seven dancers, a pianist and a singer. They appeared on a stage featuring two tilted dance spaces, the left one tilting down to the physical floor, the right tilted slightly upstage with a large backdrop hung at a slight angle; there dancers emerged and also where they periodically vanished. The pianist was seated downstage right, her back to the audience .The singer appeared mainly on the smaller, upward tilted space next to the piano, exiting behind the pianist. The dancers, incidentally, hailed from Canada, China (2), Israel (2), Madagascar, Spain. Everything, costumes included, were neutral or faintly hued.

Impromptu was created to five such titled pieces plus four songs by Franz Schubert. Unlike colleagues Rita Felciano and Allan Ulrich, this was my introduction to the German choreographer; Rita remarked it was unlike Waltz’ other works which were more “dramatic story telling.” So I had no basis for comparison, knowing her only by reputation. This appearance in itself had to be remarkable; the logistics of transporting the staging must have required a sizeable subsidy. I am inclined to think in terms of salaries and production costs as much as the message and visual impact. The technical cast numbered ten.

That said, the first dancer emerging from the back stage void seemed to be working with a loose interpretation of a renverse attitude turns, joined by the other dancers appearing and disappearing. I thought I was watching a woman copying these turns, following with semi-developpes with lifts looking like casual imitations of a la secondes. There was an aura of the deliberately amateurish, though a slow movement followed, epitomizing controlled balance, with an acrobatic section provoking scattered spontaneous audience applause not only in admiration but also relief that the lengthy exposition was completed.

No attempt was made to blend singer with dancers. When she appeared in a white floor-length column of a dress, she was a vertical, distinct, apart, though not antagonistic, still a pause, a space, almost an interruption as if Waltz’ choreography stopped telling its mysterious story. She first appeared from behind the large off center hanging oblong; later she emerged from stage right near the piano and exited there as well.

The dancers were wonderfully skilled, at times deliberately awkward in the William Steig vein of “My mother loved me but she died,” or “I mind my own business,” executed with devastating simplicity. A trio of women flitted around the stage construction near the piano which tilted upwards, two of them literally bathing in water concealed from one’s view in the orchestra. The two pulled the third backward into the water and calmly rose from their own occupancy, losing themselves in the shadows behind the hanging oblong. All this to the delicate nuances of Schubert skillfully rendered.

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