“For me, walks are the new dance,” says choreographer Sharon Eyal, as quoted in the program notes to her 2011 piece “Corps de Walk.” Carte Blanche, Norway’s national contemporary dance company, gave the hour-long work a fascinating performance Wednesday, delivering its erotic splendor as well as its tick-tock precision with diligent industry.
That’s what felt Norwegian about this event, if you really want to know (and I did, going in). Carte Blanche, with its French name, Belgian director and Israeli choreography, appeared at the Terrace Theater as part of the Kennedy Center’s Nordic Cool 2013 festival. Only five of its 13 dancers are Norwegian; the rest hail from assorted locales including Bosnia, Zimbabwe and the United Kingdom. But in creating “Corps de Walk” for them, Eyal, the house choreographer of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, and her partner, Gai Behar, drew on the simplicity, strength and cooperative qualities — call them favorable stereotypes if you must — of the Norwegian character.
Even the costumes, semi-sheer skin suits that rendered the dancers all but nude under the lights, reflected the clean lines and sleek silhouette of the Norwegian timber pavilion on display in a gallery of Scandinavian crafts outside the theater.
But back to the idea of walking as a dance. Eyal and Behar explore this in mesmerizing detail throughout “Corps de Walk.” What can you do with walking? Plenty. With the earnest precision of a beige Blue Man Group, the dancers locomote in innumerable ways about the stage, lunging, leaping, sneaking around on tiptoe, creeping cartoonishly like creatures from the macabre pen of Charles Addams.
Walking is also a philosophical point here. The title is an obvious play on the term “corps de ballet,” the lowest rank in a ballet company, a faceless ensemble of background players whose basic steps — the standing positions and ways of getting on and off the stage — are occasionally mimicked in this piece. Yet we are, in effect, looking at an anti-ballet troupe. Carte Blanche’s full-bodied dancers are a long way from the angular uniformity of a ballet corps. This fact is emphasized by their attire, in which the female dancers’ assets, especially, are exuberantly unbound.
The choreography’s inventive shapes and steps, and the quick shifts in tone, also reflect a spirit of anti-ballet liberation, even within the strict timing of “Corps de Walk.” (DJ Ori Lichtik created the terrific, pulsating sound collage of Debussy, David Byrne, Fumiya Tanaka and others, mixing it alongside Eyal and Behar as they created the movement with the dancers.) All at once, the whole cast might soften and crumple, or jolt into alignment like robotic Rockettes. At one point the dancers prowl toward the audience while clawing at their eyes, daring us to watch. Or do they mock our fascination?
Let them. More than anything else, this piece left me awed by the dancers’ cohesiveness. The ending, in which they gathered into a clump like a single, heaving organism, underscored a new idea of a collective, a true corps, built not on narrow uniformity but on what developed bit by bit over the course of the hour: a shared, funky, wide vision of humanity.