Schrittmacher Festival: Premiere of “And Everything in Between“ by Stephen Shropshire at Theater Heerlen
Life that is sweating and panting
By Nicole Strecker
translated by Karoline Strys
Will the cosmos of this giant ever be fully explored, will ever everything be said about Johann Sebastian Bach, his music or even his musical masterpiece „The Art of Fugue“? Already in 1802, Bach biographer Johann Nicolaus Forkel declared that this compositional marvel was „too high for this world.“ It is complex musical architectonics and unwieldy mathematical puzzles. And yet, with each fugue over the simple musical initial theme, the emotional tension grows, tearing up emotional depths.
„Communication as relationship“
Both layers, the formal and the psychological, and their mysterious interplay have long been a thrill for European choreographers, above all, of course, the unsurpassed Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. And now choreographer Stephen Shropshire also seems to have been very interested in this aspect for „And Everything in Between“. An evening of many small sections that follows the rather vague thematic idea of „forms of dialogue“. It was about „communication as relationship,“ says Shropshire, who himself appears in his piece as kind of a moderator and introduces the individual dance sections with a tendency toward the convoluted. So it is about the relation between dance and music, female and male dancers, dancers and audience etc. and everything that happens in between. What this „in-between“ might be you do not know after this evening. But as arbitrary as the bracket of this evening might seem – as successful are some of the individual parts.
Nuances of feelings
Part one: An exposition in silence. A female and a male dancer sit down on the floor far away from each other, their legs stretched out. She in white, him in black – like piano keys but also like Yin and Yang with reversed gender roles. She (the white, ‚male‘ principle) strikes the first note, so to speak: She looks at him, slides closer, looks away, as if to give him space in order to think about her ‚move‘ undisturbedly. He picks up her movement, and repeats and varies at the same time. A precise choreography of glances, minimal gestures – and precisely therein lies the strength of the American-born choreographer working in the Netherlands.
Stephen Shropshire traces very precisely the emotional qualities of the smallest movements. He refuses to follow the trend towards overwhelming dance, the so popular choreographies of fury and intoxicating ecstasies of contemporary dance. Instead, Shropshire explores the spectrum of human feelings in the nuances of movement. With highly sensitive bodies and soft compliance but also with great trust in the emotional power of classical technique. How „contemporary“ classical technique can be is one of the more interesting questions of this evening.
Duo with virtual ego
Shropshire’s mixture of decency and virtuosity, fidelity to form and yet also theatricality requires special dancers – like Christine Ceconello. When Bach’s famous fugue theme is played, she is alone on stage but faces her digital clone: A recording of her dance projected onto a large screen. The ‚real‘ Ceconello watches herself and responds to the movements of her projection with dance counterpoints: she shifts her body weight in the opposite direction of her virtual self. She mirrors it, accelerates, slows down or splits the movements. At the same time, her real body keeps producing sounds: turns with squeaking feet, bumping jumps, breathing that becomes increasingly heavy. So there is a body fighting, dancing itself into exhaustion. On the big screen, one that nothing can shake in its sterile perfection. Here is touching life that is sweating and panting. There pure beauty. Here presence, there eternity? What will it be like when Christine Ceconello performs this duo again in, lets say, 15 years? How terrible must it be to face one’s own ephemerality?
Yin and Yang at work
Actually, this peculiar Pas de Deux between a real and a virtual body would have given enough material to brood about. But two more duos follow, this time in the more conventional man-woman constellation with dancer Ivan Montis. Technically, Ceconello and Montis are a dream team. Every grip is spot on and Montis is quite the top partner, completely fixated on his capricious ballerina. But erotically? Well, not exactly Hans van Manen sex appeal. It seems more like the two super-powers Yin and Yang have to work off the rich choreographic material Shropshire loads on them. So the tension in the dance evaporates. Just like Bach’s grandiose fugue universe, which no longer resounds in the original but gradually fades away into the composer Xavier van Wersch’s electro adaptation. But a world without Bach? Unthinkable. His cosmos remains an eternal wonder – and certainly also that: an eternal source of inspiration for our choreographers.
Speaking of dialogues as „relationships“. Or just: Relationship killers. For example, when, as happened last night, a journalist asking questions exclusively in Dutch is invited to the after-show talk with the English-speaking Shropshire. For the German-speaking audience, which also belongs to Schrittmacher, definitely a case of: failed communication.