Adagio & Scherzo, Rite of Spring, Moving Rooms

Maria Zhuk and Robin Kent in Adagio and Scherzo Photo Ewa Krasucka

Maria Zhuk and Robin Kent in Adagio and Scherzo
Photo Ewa Krasucka

Eisenhower Theater, The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC
June 23, 2015

Carmel Morgan

The Polish National Ballet appeared at the Kennedy Center courtesy of the Laurel Fund for the performing arts. Many in the audience, it seemed, had Polish roots and were especially proud to welcome this dance company to Washington, DC. Although the full company boasts nearly ninety dancers, the touring ensemble was composed of just twenty-three.

The compamny performed three works including Adagio & Scherzo and Moving Rooms, choreographed by Krzysztof Pastor, Polish National Ballet’s director. Pastor, who spent a decade as a dancer with the Dutch National Ballet, has his plate full, as he is also the artistic director of the Lithuanian National Ballet and a resident choreographer for the Dutch National Ballet. Emanuel Gat, artistic director/choreographer of Emanuel Gat Dance in Israel, choreographed the third work, Rite of Spring, which uses Stravinsky’s
famous score.

All three works are contemporary and eschew narrative structure. Adagio & Scherzo plays with Schubert’s swelling and retreating music (String Quartet in C major, movements two and three), displaying movement that is, in turns, somber and lyrical, then happily energetic. At one point about mid-way through, the dancers’ faces suddenly brighten into broad smiles and their dancing becomes markedly peppier and faster, in tune with the tone and tempo of the accompanying music.

Adagio & Scherzo prominently features duets, although sometimes the dancers swap partners, and occasionally, although powerfully, everyone dances in unison, or gathers in a tight-knit sculptural formation. The legs of the women are frequently stretched to 180 degrees, either held toes pointing up by the side of the head, or both legs in a split while being carried upside down. The lighting (Marta Fiedler), costume design (Maciej Igielski), and set/production design (Malgorzata Szablowska) are very attractive, yet the painterly sweeps of color and light on the scrim behind the dancers changes so often that it’s a bit distracting. And I don’t think the dark fringed curtain that descends for a brief period and through which the dancers walk adds anything significant. Standing out in Adagio & Scherzo is a sweet kitten-like style of ducking and nudging the head. Dipping under an arm and then resting on a shoulder, heads weave unique nestling patterns.

Polish National Ballet in Emanuel Gat's Rite of Spring Photo Ewa Krasucka

Polish National Ballet in Emanuel Gat’s Rite of Spring
Photo Ewa Krasucka

Gat’s Rite of Spring departs even further from classical ballet and delves into the territory of nightmares. The women wear their long hair wildly hanging down. The dancers are barefoot, and they spin and sway like drunken exhausted revelers at the end of a long night. In fact, there’s a bright red square rug on which they dance. At other times, they stand and move outside the red carpet square, mostly in darkness, at the perimeter of the stage.

The dance follows some social dance conventions. When the dancers are paired, they grasp hands and pull close. Because the work has only five dancers (three women and two men), when couples dance, someone is always left alone, albeit not for long, because partner swapping happens at a rapid pace. The movement is alternately simple, and challenging and intricate. Arms reach to the sky like a child grabbing a pole on a merry-go-round, and around and around the dancers go. Yet they do this without any outward signs of joy. The strikingly dissonant music and the black costumes and dim lighting (lighting and costumes by Gat) are punctuated by a searing red glow. The dancers look like they’re being forced to continue a social dance ritual while trapped in a ring of Dante’s Inferno. Although much of the movement has an apathetic quality, the dancing keeps one’s attention. There is tremendous tension that builds and dissipates and builds again. Toward the end, the dancers sink exquisitely slowly, bending their knees deeply with straight backs and lowering gently until they’re reclining on the floor. Then they matter-of-factly rise again, like they’re simply participants in the daily grind.

Pawel Koncewoj and Aneta Zbrzezniak in Moving Rooms. Photo Ewa Krasucka

Pawel Koncewoj and Aneta Zbrzezniak in Moving Rooms
Photo Ewa Krasucka

Moving Rooms begins with piercing strings (music by Schnittke and Gorecki), conjuring memories of Rite of Spring, which preceded it. Later, one hears a harpsichord, I think. The movement in the piece echoes some of that in Adagio & Scherzo. There are a few kitten-like nods of the head, more legs going completely vertical or horizontal, and some posing together in a clump that breaks up a lot of dancing in pairs. The lighting design by Bert Dalhuysen, again quite dim overall, creates distinct spaces and stunning Gothic shadows. When all of the dancers are first together on the stage, a checkerboard pattern appears beneath their feet, making individual small boxes within which each dancer moves.  The costumes include some pinkish-beige apparel that suggests nakedness. Carlos Martin Perez, in the captivating solo that starts off Moving Rooms, crossed and uncrossed his lengthened arms in front of him as he skittered sideways on his toes. Although he sometimes seemed angry, he also radiated a certain sort of charisma that, together with the dark lighting and music, reminded me of the Phantom from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.