How conventional American modern dance will seem after the sharp theatricality of the Scandinavians in the Nordic Cool festival. Or rather, how wacko and deliciously oddball some of the dances at the Kennedy Center over the past 21 / 2 weeks have looked.
If choreographic brilliance wasn’t the chief impression left by our northern visitors, I won’t soon forget the fierce, mysterious fowl-as-femme-fatale in Iceland Dance Company’s “The Swan,” performed at the end of February, or the incredible cohesiveness and discipline of Norway’s Carte Blanche earlier this month, marching through “Corps de Walk” in transparent costumes that would make Lady Gaga blush.
Then there was Sweden’s GoteborgsOperans Danskompani, the dance company of the Goteborg Opera, which performed Friday at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater as the final dance component of Nordic Cool. Based in Gothenburg, on the west coast of the country, this 40-member troupe used to perform a mix of ballet and contemporary dance. But in 2008 it made “a strategic decision,” as a spokeswoman told me, to focus solely on contemporary dance. (I imagine an R&D team in lab coats soberly conferring on the pros and cons of different dance forms, like engineers drawing up the future for Saabs and Volvos.)
It was a good decision. The program presented here had a fresh, up-to-the-minute look. The three works were not equally strong on all fronts, but they shared a sense of crisp, youthful and even reckless vitality. (A couple of the men sported beards and floppy hair, an unusual look for dancers, though I’m not sure why that is. These men looked terrific.)
The most interesting piece was “OreloB,” by Finnish choreographer Kenneth Kvarnstrom. His inspiration was Ravel’s “Bolero” (the work’s title is “bolero” spelled backward), though that music only faintly echoed through the throbbing pulse of Jukka Rintamaki’s electronic score. Right down to its final, eerily quiet moment, this was a meditation on the unshakable power of obsession.
Dressed in black bathing suits with extravagantly ruffled necklines, the three men and two women looked like postmodern Pierrots of the Berlin underground — severe, ostentatiously nihilist and a little ridiculous. But the big round ruffles on their costumes reflected the movement motif of this fascinating dance, all circles and loops. It brought to mind that stunning, steamy “Bolero” routine to Ravel’s music by British ice dancers Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean in the 1984 Olympics. In “OreloB,” not only did the movement phrasing flow in spirals — a fall, a catch, a lift in the air — but the emotions also swung between extremes. One of the women might punch her partner in the chest, sending him staggering; he’d return and collapse in her arms. Obsession isn’t easily released from the heart.
The music gradually rose to a thick roar, like the unbearable feedback in a John Cage piece; by the end, there was only one woman left onstage. As the music faded and a shower of silver snow fell, she was still tracing the same moves she had danced with the others, as if she couldn’t shake the insistent, repetitive rhythms etched into her body.
I loved the gloomy weirdness of this piece, the dancers’ seriousness of purpose in those kookily stylish costumes. And I loved the snow — this effect figured in a couple of the Nordic pieces, a sweet and obviously powerful connection with home. Too bad the building emotional force of “OreloB” was absent from the rest of the program. “Beethoven’s 32 Variations,” by Swedish choreographer Orjan Andersson, featured a quirky, splayed-out use of the body but never got beyond an exercise in noodling around to the fine live piano accompaniment by Joakim Kallhed.
“Your Passion Is Pure Joy to Me,” by Stijn Celis of Belgium, was an immersion into the depressive intensity of Nick Cave’s songs, the raspy acidity of “God Is in the House,” among others. I can understand his glumness, but why the dancers’? In T-shirts and trendy colored jeans, they looked as if they’d just walked out of H&M; maybe we were supposed to feel bad that they seemed so generic. After rambling aimlessly, the dance ended abruptly, as if someone backstage had gotten fed up and snapped off the lights. A good move.