Review: Show rescued by final performance

Robert Meško, the dedicated and energetic director of the Bratislava Dance Theatre, last autumn commissioned two original works for the spring, to be jointly known as The XY Files. He gave each choreographer the same loose guidelines: create something accessible to the public with virtuoso, multi-dimensional dancing.
By his own admission, one of the pieces he received was precisely what he was looking for, while the other was not. Meško's candid words give a good indication of what to expect from The XY Files, the dance company's most recent evening-length two-part programme.
First up is Chrysalis, an inscrutable, slow-paced piece of esoteric modern dance. As the title suggests (a chrysalis is a butterfly pupa encased in a cocoon), the theme (made clear by the props) is restriction: the four dancers are at times encased in Velcro suits and stuck to large metal triangles.


Petr Kolař drags a triangle around the stage as Marianna Pauliková sticks to it with velcro. Meanings are scarce.
photo: Ctibor Bachratý

The XY Files

Where: Dom Kultúry, Zrkadlový háj Rovniankova 3
When: June 20 at 20:00, June 21 at 11:00, June 22 at 11:00
Rating: 5 out of 10

Robert Meško, the dedicated and energetic director of the Bratislava Dance Theatre, last autumn commissioned two original works for the spring, to be jointly known as The XY Files. He gave each choreographer the same loose guidelines: create something accessible to the public with virtuoso, multi-dimensional dancing.

By his own admission, one of the pieces he received was precisely what he was looking for, while the other was not. Meško's candid words give a good indication of what to expect from The XY Files, the dance company's most recent evening-length two-part programme.

First up is Chrysalis, an inscrutable, slow-paced piece of esoteric modern dance. As the title suggests (a chrysalis is a butterfly pupa encased in a cocoon), the theme (made clear by the props) is restriction: the four dancers are at times encased in Velcro suits and stuck to large metal triangles. But beyond the obvious restriction theme, who knows what to make of the rest of the performance? The players spend considerable time simply strolling around the stage pushing the triangles hither and thither and passing around the suits, all the while appearing vaguely distressed.

By the end of Chrysalis, viewers are left feeling a mixture of frustration, confusion and inadequacy. Frustration and confusion from spending an hour trying to decipher the performance; inadequacy because with all that talent on and back stage, one feels that something interesting must be going on somewhere, but that it's accessible only to a select group of presumably highly cultured people.

The evening's second performance, One Hit Wonder, could scarcely be more different. Divided into duelling sections - one set to Bach, the other to modern electronic music - it is coherent, and most importantly, full of stirring dance. The piece starts with two women moving together in circles; a man runs out and joins them and the trio plunge into energetic, athletic movements impeccably in-sync. Partners constantly interchange, leaving the steps lively and varied. One Hit Wonder prominently displays the skill of the theatre's dancers.

As the performance moves back and forth between the lighter scenes set to Bach and their shadowy counterparts, the over-arching emotion of the performers becomes longing - longing for people, for alternative possibilities, for events trapped in the past. The classical intervals serve as memories, the best of which is a duet between Radovan Vagač and Petr Kolár. Tumbling wildly around the stage, the two look like David and Goliath one moment, two brothers fighting over a toy the next. The sequence is a humorous masterstroke.

Meško explained later that One Hit Wonder was exactly the kind of performance his company would like to perform and promote. A good thing, too, for Chrysalis is enough to leave even open-minded dance fans in a stupor.

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