'Purgatorio' Finds Salvation in the Nexus of Music and Dance

By Pamela Squires
Special to The Washington Post
Saturday, September 26, 2009

"Purgatorio," a work by edgy Dutch choreographer Emio Greco that had its American premiere Thursday at the Clarice Smith Center, is heaven to watch.

Greco collaborated with theater director Pieter C. Scholten and composer Michael Gordon to create "Purgatorio," which is Part 2 of the dance/rock/opera triptych "POPOPERA" (Parts 1 and 3 are "Inferno" and "Paradiso"). Much has been written about how Greco over-intellectualizes dance. When he writes about a "synergetic environment where the body must encounter its helplessness and hopelessness in order to reach its strength," the words can leave readers, well, helplessly lost.

Yet Greco would be the first to say that the transition from complex philosophy to stage is never literal. Greco uses "Purgatorio" to ask an age-old question: What is dance? Simply put, he attempts to erase the line between music and dance. After all, musicians move, and dancers make sounds with their feet. In this pursuit, he arms dancers with electric guitars and has vocalists scuttling about.

This may sound run-of-the-mill, but Greco is anything but ordinary. There are wigs and glittery pants and banks of blinding lights and a semi-nude dancer encased in see-though material from face to toe. The score crashes and slashes and often crescendos to earsplitting levels, ending with a shriek. The silence that follows is deafening.

There are port de bras that make the guitar look like a third arm, and dancers that tremble like a big vibrato. Even when still, the dancers are poised, as if on "pause." There is a marvelous sequence in which the dancers strum their guitars as they continuously and slowly plie, twist sideways and rise. To make it easier for the dancers, the guitars are individually tuned so that the dancers needn't use specific fingering.

This 90-minute, no-intermission extravaganza was far from cerebral. It was just plain heady.

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