This was one of the best concert dance performances I've ever seen. Minh and I happened to see it on Wednesday March 11, the only free night during our composition residency in Montreal, and the night before the NDT run was cancelled due to coronavirus. This was a good one to end on.
The performance included three pieces, Vladimir by Hofesh Shechter, The Statement by Crystal Pite, and Singulière Odyssée by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot, artistic directors of NDT. Singulière Odyssée would have been the best thing I'd seen in any other lineup but was my least favorite here. The staging was effective but on the verge of cliche: a man peering offstage into bright lights with his face framed by a small window in the open door, falling paper leaves at the climax. The dancing was precise and beautiful but it felt a little predictable in comparison to the other two pieces. Although the costumes were unisex, the choreography seemed heteronormative. Women didn't lift men.
The Statement was more surprising and fun for me. A large conference table at center stage provided the office-space setting and a useful prop for graceful leaps and slides. Dancers used the edge of the solid table to abruptly stop themselves mid-movement to nice effect. The dancers mouthed the dialogue and provided exaggerated physical expressions for a narrative played through the PA. I appreciated the lightheartedness, and the movements were sharp and stylish enough to keep the schtick interesting for longer than one might expect. About halfway through the piece, however, I craved more freedom in the movements' interpretation of the dialogue. The narrative also came to feel like a too-small box. I wanted more room to imagine for myself.
But Vladimir! Vladimir blew my mind. The theme for me was youthful defiance and the struggle for self. A huge cast of dancers (15?, 20?) in miraculously complicated arrangements were sometimes frantic, sometimes methodical. Pairs and trios amongst the crowd would support one another -- sometimes literally by carrying a limp dancer off stage and sometimes by taking weight or providing an anchor. A climactic section had the feeling of good krump, where the dancer is filled with so much energy they might explode. I might explode. After the performance I remarked to Minh about the incredible complexity of the ensemble sections and she explained the "group brain" approach to choreography. The choreographer provides images and concepts and the individual dancers work out the individual details. I can imagine Shechter said things like, "I want something celebratory and vertical but you should always be touching two others, then slink off like you've been rejected." Vladimir is so rich and complex I can't imagine it happening any other way. Vladimir has raised the bar for me for what's possible in concert dance.