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Devo Redux at the Joyce

03/19/2013 12:36 pm ET | Updated Mar 19, 2013

Carte Blanche at the Joyce Theater
March 17th, 2013


I have seen much derivative work in my time, but the presentation by Carte Blanche (the Norwegian National Company of Contemporary Dance) of Corps de Walk appropriated so many different genres of dance and art that it bordered on shocking. The first fifteen minutes or so seemed both kinetic and promising: the last forty five went absolutely nowhere. Certainly every choreographer at one point or another in his or her career suffers from what in literary terms Harold Bloom has termed the anxiety of influence--but here anxiety (and there was plenty of it in) crossed the line into artistic pastiche and intellectual dishonesty. Why Carte Blanche enlisted the services of Sharon Eyal and Gai Bachar, middling choreographers at best, remains a mystery.

The twelve dancers came out on stage with shellacked white hair, wearing white body suits and powdered white faces. The only hint of color in this visual albino fest emanated from the piercing blue contact lenses that made them look part-human part-animal, alien at first, alienating in the long run. For the better part of an uninterrupted hour of prancing and dancing, the performers mixed syncopated arm and leg movements with elements of contemporary dance, ballet and street languages such as voguing and regular old nightclub dancing. Speaking of clubbing, the press materials describe DJ Ori Lichtik as world-famous; perhaps so, but more compelling mixes could be heard at Danceteria in the 1980's than this migraine-inducing mix of Einstürzende Neubauten, David Byrne and Debussy. For the better part of an hour I felt like I was trapped inside a parody of a Devo video that had been intercut with Madonna and Lady Gaga. The dancers certainly gave it their all--one could tell they were straining and re-straining themselves in every possible different direction--but more original choreography could be seen at any weekend Harlem House event twenty years ago. The dancers also lacked extension in certain positions and consistency, but the moves themselves were so prosaic at times, it was hard to know whether to blame performer or choreographer. In one such recurring move, the twelve performers each quickly extended their legs backwards one after another while bending forward at 90 degree angles in a long row: it's a jazzy enough move but were we at The Joyce or watching the Rockettes?

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Eyal and Behar both studied under Ohad Naharin at Batsheva, Israel's premiere contemporary dance company, and elements of Naharin's exciting, tensile choreography also appeared everywhere tonight but without any of the intellectualism or thought that makes the latter a powerful choreographer. It was just boring choreography masquerading as high art. At times the dancers retreated closely together in various poses and geometric configurations in what seemed like what, some sort of half-baked comment on sexual tension and violence? At others, they marched in place and across the stage--but again to what effect and for what reason? The choreographic statement avers that Corps de Walk "concentrates on the corps de ballet, traditionally the dancers who form the backdrop behind the ballerina" but this is hardly an interesting theme--in fact it is not much of a theme at all. At one point one of the female dancers marched forward towards the audience, her breasts jiggling distractedly up and down--thankfully the men all seemed to be wearing dance belts!

Carte Blanche turned out to be lily white indeed on this particular night, the physical whiteness mirrored in the harsh lighting as well. After a while, one wanted to all twelve of them to head south to the Riviera or hop into a tanning booth and get some color. I have never seen Carte Blanche before--but much about Nordic culture fascinates me, from its sense of democratic élan to its sometimes repressed emotional states. It is difficult to understand why the company chose to present this particular piece to a New York audience given everything that has taken place in Scandinavia of late, or why the Joyce chose to close its wonderful "Ice Hot: A Nordic Dance Festival" with this particular act. The 2011 Anders Breivik shootings, Moslem immigration--for God's sake the polar ice caps melting would have been more interesting. In the end, it seems that the choreographers thought they had carte blanche to mix in any elements of modern art with snippets of every conceivable existing form of movement: think Marina Abramovic, even white George Segal sculptures came to mind, as did the advanced Nox people on Stargate. Apart from a few onlookers who were genuinely bored most of the audience didn't seem to mind--in fact they loved the performance. Perhaps inured to good choreography by shows such as Dancing with the Stars and You Think You Can Dance, they mostly jived to the endlessly pulsating beat and non-stop movement on stage. Silence, one wanted to scream, can sometimes be golden.