If you’ve never heard of the Dutch dance company Introdans, you’re not alone. The 40-year old troupe, now on its first US tour with stops only in New York and Seattle, has been overshadowed internationally by the Dutch National Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater. But with these first American appearances, Introdans showcases its striking blend of modern dance and classical ballet techniques and a polyglot group of sleek performers who move effortlessly among a wide range of choreographic styles.
There is nothing dramatically new in the three works on the program and each one seems familiar, despite the fact that choreographers Nils Christe, Gisela Rocha, and Ed Wubbe have never been seen locally. There are echoes of William Forsythe, Martha Graham, José Limon, and Jiri Kylián with a little bit of Broadway tap thrown in for good measure, but that doesn’t undermine the visual feast of gorgeous bodies, elegant lines, boundless energy, and dazzling production details the evening provides.
Of the three ballets on this heaven-themed program, my personal favorite was the opening “Fünf Gedichte” (Five Poems) by Christe, a gentle work that showcases the company’s technical proficiency and its capacity to convey emotion even in a purely abstract work. Set to Wagner’s “Wesendonk Lieder,” it has the most distinctive and original movement vocabulary – deep crouches with backs to the audience, crooked outstretched arms, spread-leg lifts – set against a partially suspended backdrop of fluffy cumulus clouds. Dancers come and go in jewel-toned unitards, stretching and twisting their bodies in a series of solos, pas de deux, and ensemble dances.
The opening solo with the stunning Zachary Chant, clad in flesh colored tights and bare chest, suggests an angelic figure who moves seamlessly between the celestial and earthly spheres. We often see only Chant’s muscled back as he enters and exits through the black back curtain, removing one dancer, delivering another. Chant is a riveting ghostly presence, quietly managing the action without overwhelming the nine other dancers who offer startlingly beautiful moments of their own.
Especially affecting is the “second poem” pas de deux of Mara Hulspas and Rubén Ventoso Sanromán in which Sanromán gracefully weaves the svelte Hulspas around his body in a love duet brimming with longing and sadness. When Chant carries Hulspas off it becomes clear that she and Sanromán have been saying goodbye and the moment when Chant walks through the back curtain with Hulspas in his arms is heartbreaking. Equally stunning is the final tableau; as Chant exits through the curtain for the last time, the ensemble crouches off to the side, facing upstage with arms raised and bathed in a golden glow, blessed by heavenly grace.
After such a touching, spiritual conclusion the company and the audience need the intermission to prepare for the clanging opening sequence of Rocha’s “Paradise?” which is all too reminiscent of William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.” Dressed in sweat pants, tank tops, and t-shirts, the dancers throw themselves whole hog into Rocha’s frenetic, athletic leaps, turns, and jumps. Things soon calm down and in the remaining sections, it’s the lighting effects, Hulspa’s haunting, funhouse-sounding rendition of “Over the Rainbow” and Rashaen Arts’ jazzy tap interlude that provide the most interesting moments.
Rocha’s vocabulary is somewhat limited and the numerous sequences seem disconnected. Still, changes in the music and lighting (controlled by a grid that moves up and down throughout the work) keep us guessing about what will happen next. The ending offers the greatest surprise and if “Paradise?” doesn’t reach the choreographic heights of the other ballets on the program, it nevertheless enables Introdans’ talented dancers to show off their range and fearlessness.
The final work, Wubbe’s “Messiah,” has intimations of Martha Graham, Loie Fuller, and modern ballet’s jazz-inflected pointe work. As with the two other pieces, the overarching production design is as much the star as the twirling performers. In the most striking visual effect, three dancers spin behind a transparent scrim, floor-length silky white skirts flowing outward from their bodies. The image is multiplied later on when an ensemble of eight dancers repeats the twirling, this time in front of the scrim. Handel’s easy-on-the-ears score propels the action forward and, as with “Paradise?,” it’s never obvious what the next section will bring.
In all three ballets, it’s clear that Introdans is a well-trained dynamic troupe, capable of performing a wide range of styles. The current program though doesn’t present the most innovative choreographers with works in the Introdans repertoire. On future outings it would be nice to see what the company does with the likes of Kylián, Hans Van Manen, Mats Ek, Nacho Duato, and Paul Littlejohn/Sol León.
If you go: Introdans, Meany Hall, University of Washington, May 10-12. Tickets $42, $40 UW faculty, staff and alumni, $20 students at the UW Arts box office, 3901 University Way NE, by phone at 206-543-4880 (toll free 800-859-5342), or online.