Midway through “Love Songs,” a well-oiled display of contemporary rites of courtship by the Danish Dance Theatre, the performers retreated to chairs at the back of the Terrace Theater stage and stripped to their underwear.
Can you blame me for expecting that this was a turning point? Unmentionables don’t go on display under moody purple lights for nothing, right? My thoughts flicked back to a similar moment in Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra show, “Come Fly Away,” when disrobing to their skivvies caused her dancers to crank up the heat on their hookups.
Alas, that wasn’t the case here. It wasn’t so much the lingerie I was interested in (though who wouldn’t hope for more than a peek?). I dearly wanted to see this work, which was pleasant but short of spellbinding, progress toward some kind of goal. Yet once undressed, the Danes demurely dressed again, slipping into outfits that were in some cases sparklier but in other cases looked almost the same as what they’d had on before.
And the dancing? That picked up right where it had left off, too: The flying leaps and cuddle-ups of funny love, the missed connections of so-so love, but always, always cute love.
So it went in this evening-length piece by the company’s British-born artistic director, Tim Rushton, presented as part of the Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 festival. Characters emerged — the outsider, the slobberer, the pair whose timing was always slightly off. The 12 dancers, terrific movers all, bucked and rippled as if great waves were washing over them. They tumbled and rolled as if the stage were a sandy beach. The atmosphere was invariably easy, relaxed. You could well imagine the fun they’d had improvising those moves in the studio.
But though their noodling around was lush, without a spot of friction, it led nowhere terribly interesting. You hoped for a sharp left turn, a thunderclap. The work remained soft and amorphous. “Love Songs” was accompanied by jazz standards (“My Funny Valentine,” “All of Me,” etc.) recorded with more affection than style by the perfectly pleasant Danish vocalist Caroline Henderson. And the piece was true to its name. Love . . . songs . . . well, that was the sum of it.
Rushton didn’t lack ideas; he produced many clever moments. One that stands out was a split second when a couple’s hands came together to form a blooming rose. Just as quickly, the image dissolved and others followed, pell-mell, in a wash of ceaseless motion. But there was never time for an idea to land, or for a feeling to register. If Rushton had as much patience (and confidence?) as adrenaline, he might have produced a more focused and deeply felt suite. But like that fruitless glimpse of Fruit-of-the-Looms (or whatever they call them in Copenhagen), any revelations were swiftly swept away.
Danish Dance Theatre repeats “Love Songs” March 2 at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.