Monday, May 05, 2008

Watermill and The Four Seasons

I'd read about Watermill and how slow and boring and pretentious, etc. it is and I'd I'd also read that it was influenced by Noh drama. I've never seen Noh but having sat through a not-at-all fun hour and a half of the reportedly more accessible Kabuki I was fully expecting to hate the ballet. So I was surprised when I found it rather interesting.

Tonya Plank, who does wonderful dance reviews on her blog, has a good description of the piece. Basically, our central figure, danced by Nikolaj Hübbe in a role that requires almost no dancing at all, seems to be reflecting on memories, with the most important ones involving his younger self in different stages of his life. He strips down to his underwear on a beach--something that creates a feeling of vulnerability, exposure, perhaps?--and then spends most of his time watching these memories pass. Robbins also equates the cycles of life with the passing of the seasons, which I'm not sure is particular interesting. Or rather, I think it's one that's been done to death and better than it is here. What is far more interesting is that it is a piece of theater that dwelling in memory and yet avoiding the nostalgia that so often seems to overwhelm such things. In fact, the past seems tinged with regret more than anything else.

What fascinates me though is the stillness, the meditative quality, the way in which the dance seeks to change the viewer's perception of time passing. When there is so little motion, every movement matters. Everything becomes imbued with greater importance. Well, that's the theory anyway. The reality is that it's only effective in parts.

There are moments when the shifting tableaux draw you in, moments where you really do fall into the meditative feeling of the piece. One of the loveliest moments, for me, came after the rather sexual duet between the young man I assume is his younger self and a woman. Hübbe has sat, watching, but then he switches from observer to participant as he momentarily takes the place of the young man and is standing with the girl, stepping into his own memory as one steps into a dream.

But there are other times--for example, when he's waving around stalks of wheat, which are apparently supposed to be phragmites, for minutes on end--when you wonder what exactly the point is of a particular part is. And as each part goes on for a long time, you have a lot of time to wonder. On the one hand there's something quite beautiful about this striking man and the light falling on these long golden golden stalks. But on the other hand you can't help but want to know why and if the reason is fathomable then it's beyond me. And if there is no reason isn't that a problem?

I find myself torn on the piece as a whole. I wasn't bored. Hübbe has a way of seeming actively engaged even when perfectly still, and of giving weight his ever-so-slow movements, that I very much enjoy watching. And I felt like there were things I was constantly mulling over, both during and after the performance. But at the same time I found it quite frustrating. So I don't really know what I think and I've been trying to figure it out, but I don't think it's going to happen.

The Four Seasons which I had also never seen, is a lovely way to end the evening on a light, joyful note with it's cheer and humor. I particularly liked Sara Mearns in the Spring section and Ashley Bouder (who I've really enjoyed every time I've seen her dance) and Daniel Ulbricht in the Fall section. I think I would have liked Benjamin Millepied better if he wasn't dancing in a section with Bouder and Ulbricht. They just make everything seem so delightfully effortless, while his dancing seems more like work. I loved the Winter section particularly, even though none of the dancers stood out to me particularly like they did in the Spring and Fall sections.

(1st picture stolen from the New York Times review, 2nd picture stolen from the New York Sun review)

No comments: