Rigor Mortis (04). Guro Nagelhus and men in Rigor Mortis. Photo Amitava Sarkar

Guro Nagelhus Schia and men in Rigor Mortis.
Photo Amitava Sarkar

Maggie Foyer

Houston audiences had the opportunity to see a unique Eastman (the company was set up in 2010 to produce and spread the work of artistic director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui) curation in Rigor Mortis. Working with Festival artistic director, Nancy Henderek, and inspired by Shell Shock, Genesis and TeZuKA, Cherkaoui fashioned a brand new work for Dance Salad Festival.

A solitary man, in a soldier’s jacket of a past age, stands on stage. He marches relentlessly back and forth in a square grid. The silence is punctuated by the sharp report of his rifle butt as he thumps it down at irregular intervals. Vocalist Manjunath Basavanahalli Chandramouli joins in, setting the pulse in sound bullets of staccato semi-plosives in the manner of Kathak padhant. More soldiers enter and play out the ritual of marching, aiming, shooting and dying.

It takes the special genius of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui to encapsulate the mind numbing senselessness of war in the marching to nowhere, the blindfolded men twitching uncontrollably and the endless stream of broken bodies laid across the stretchers. In this mass of humanity, of varied heights, colours and nationalities, he locates the universal man yet, strangely, also invokes a specific time and place in a moving tribute to the millions who died in the Great War.

Guro Nagelhus in Rigor Mortis. Photo Amitava Sarkar

Guro Nagelhus in Rigor Mortis.
Photo Amitava Sarkar

The body painting Cherkaoui used so effectively in TeZuKA, is assigned to Guro Nagelhus Schia who unbuttons her nurse’s uniform and, in a simple white shift, daubs her body with slashes of blood red paint. Schia like so many of the Eastman dancers moves with the grace of a cat, folding, stretching and rolling effortlessly. This combined with a core of deep stillness makes her a riveting performer. Vebjørn Sundby joins her in a lyrical duet that flows with a sense of the inevitable: he incessantly wipes her limbs clean while she continues to apply the slashes of red.

Kozuki Kazutomi, a master of diverse guises, arrives in a body bag. Never has a corpse proved so entertaining – definitely quick rather than dead. He twitches, contorts and flips in improbable and seemingly impossibly ways. This startling rebirth builds to a genesis moment and a mystic display of spinning crystal balls. Cherkaoui’s theatricality flair has worked again, conceiving a birth, life, death cycle from three singular works.

Ghosts, written for Norwegian National Ballet as a 70-minute work, has been curated to half that length but the characterisations remain meaningful. Interestingly, Ibsen’s play, on which the work is based, was actually premiered in the United States in 1882 as the subject matter was thought too immoral for Norwegian audiences. Sadly, the subject matter of rape, incest and abuse remains relevant and deeply disturbing.

This dance theatre production takes a harrowing journey to the dark recesses of the human soul through Marit Moum Aune’s concept, Cina Espejord’s choreography and considerable input from the dancers. Nils Petter Molvær, the jazz trumpeter and composer, and Jan Bang on the synthesizer played live on stage while the two children, the young Oswald and Regina, are represented in monochrome video.

Each character is acutely drawn. Camilla Spidsøe as Mrs Alving, is central, her emotions spelled out in movement. In the space of half an hour her respectable life, glued together on falsehoods, falls apart and her final cries, echoed in the wailing trumpet, haunt the memory long after curtain down. Aune gives Pastor Manders (Ole Willy Falkhaugen) a more sympathetic reading than is often the case. His hidden love for Mrs Alving is expressed in intense private duets of unrequited passion alternating with public formality as in the brilliantly conceived scene at the dinner table.

Camilla Spidsøe (Mrs Alving), Grete Sofie Borud Nybakken (Regina) and Adreas Heise (Oswald) in Ghosts. Photo Amitava Sarkar

Camilla Spidsøe (Mrs Alving), Grete Sofie Borud Nybakken (Regina) and Andreas Heise (Oswald) in Ghosts.
Photo Amitava Sarkar

The curated version brings Regina, the abused illegitimate daughter to greater prominence. Grete Sofie Borud Nybakken, gave a memorable performance: spirited, naïve yet sexually knowing. Oswald, (Andreas Heise) whose return initiates the tragedy, is seduced by Regina as she crawls through his legs and impudently looks up at him, inviting him to join her in a joyous, but all too brief, duet. Her relationship with her stepfather is very different. Shod in heavy boots, Yoshifumi Inao plays him as an unemotional, uncouth and chilling figure and in their duet every touch and look generates fear and loathing. In the nerve-jangling final moments, Heise as Oswald, pulls on a mask to become his father, the esteemed Captain. He rips it off to cling to his mother but the disease inherited from his father’s lust cannot be so easily removed and seals his fate.

If you like your dance viewing to leave you thinking long after curtain down – these are the works for you.