4: STILL LIFE

Sleek, superior and formal

from: Trouw 1/11/2013

The device of a man and a woman performing a duet onstage is a classic one. In 4: Still Life (the fourth in what can be regarded as a series of works), choreographer Nicole Beutler transports us back to the many manifestations of this coupling in Western cultural history – in dances in the court of the Sun King, in ballroom dancing and in the tango.

Beutler takes them and applies to them what we might by now describe as her ‘method’. Without ever descending into a treatise on dance history, Beutler analyses and abstracts the material (she describes the process as ‘editing’) until she has traced the origins of every aspect of the movements and of the motivations behind them.

The underlying impulse for the duet – that miraculous pairing of attraction and repulsion, leading and following – is somewhat obscured by the idiom Beutler draws on for 4: Still Life. They are the principles of Bauhaus, in particular those of Oskar Schlemmer’s 1922 piece Triadic Ballet, in which the human is pitted against geometric shapes and subordinated to them. 4: Still Life opens not with people but with rolling stage panels that perform a ‘duet’ together. When the two dancers Marjolein Vogels and Benjamin Kahn do appear, Beutler focuses their actions primarily on the symmetry and rhythm of the duet – there are circular shapes (hoops make an appearance) and one duet consists entirely of walked rectangles, bringing together dance elements in a repetitive, minimalist section.

It is tautly timed, dazzlingly intelligent, and excellently designed, but it is also rather formalistic. It is so flawless, so keen-edged. Beutler’s unique sense of levity, or even slight craziness – as manifested in 3: The Garden, this piece’s superb predecessor from 2011 – is only in evidence here when the dance, however briefly, breaks free of the form. Beutler’s intentions are fully expressed in the central duet, when the man and woman – who until this moment have been operating independently of one another – merge into one. Here Beutler engages with the ultimate paradox, perhaps a universal truth about any duality: it is the bringing together of opposing forces that creates balance. When he supports her and she supports him in a perfect construction – their entwined bodies conveying a dazzling and emotional visual language – there is, for a moment, true magic.’

© Sander Hiskemuller