4: STILL LIFE

Contradictions abound in Nicole Beutler’s work, and that’s what makes this piece so breathtaking ****

from: Volkskrant 31/10/2013

When choreographer Nicole Beutler turns her attention to the duet in dance, you know in advance that the audience won’t be leaning back for a medley of intimate, passionate or joyous couple dances. That would be too easy. What Beutler has done is take the duet – two bodies in dialogue – as her departure point, and view it through the prism of an early 20th century Bauhaus artist. What we see are primarily geometric forms, and the result is austere, lucid, and abstract.

Unlike Bauhaus artist Oskar Schlemmer in his revolutionary mechanical ballets, Beutler does not use stylised masks and costumes to hide her dancers – the striking Marjolein Vogels and Benjamin Khan. But there are echoes of his fondness for presenting the performer as a moving object. 4: Still Life sets the tone from the very outset: a flat wall starts to move, to the accompaniment of electronic sounds by Beutler’s regular composer Gary Shepherd. The panels move around one another, swapping position and sliding up close. These animated sheets of wood are what open the dance.

And then flesh-and-blood humans take the stage. Vogels and Khan wear ballroom dancing shoes, [and she a] champagne pleated skirt and cream-coloured sweater. Intuitively, this outward appearance seems to clash with the language they are using: the ABC of Bauhaus, the language of triangles, squares and circles. The woman begins with a symmetrical display using two small wooden hoops which she holds motionless by her head and then sweeps through the air, slicing through the stage space, creating frames, volumes, and motion. The man joins her, doubling the effect. And when the light casts clear shadows on the floor there are suddenly six versions, all of them cutting circles.

As the electronic music makes itself increasingly felt, the duo unwind – without ever losing control and without ever recalling the sweltering heat of the dance hall. We glimpse fleeting – too fleeting – moments of poses, hops, dribbles, sweeps and leaps from court dances, ballroom dances, and figure skating. This disconnection from their original music and flow highlights the way they look, rather than the way it feels to dance together. But feelings do gradually emerge, as when the couple keep each other in balance while entwined in complex and marvellously sculptural acrobatic constructions. And again when their steps endlessly describe the squares and circles that form the foundation of the waltz, the tango, or salsa. The pair are perfectly attuned and mutually supportive.

4: Still Life is Beutler’s fourth original solo work since the disbanding in 2009 of her collective LISA. It is suffused with contradictions – between periods and styles, and between expectations and reality. It is functional and aesthetic, reserved and emotional, familiar and strange, dull and captivating. In a word: remarkable.

© Mirjam van der Linden