Jacob's Pillow: Morphoses Resnais film informs dance

Saturday June 30, 2012

Special to the Eagle

BECKET -- Although Pontus Lidberg, the choreographer, filmmaker and dancer is Swedish, Alain Resnais, the French filmmaker, springs surprisingly to mind several times as Lidberg’s new work, "WITHIN (Labyrinth Within)" unfolds in its world premiere at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

It is a multimedia composition, with Lidberg’s expressed intention to assign equal weight to live dance, film and music in imparting its intense tale.

Each of those three components shares in Lidberg’s disquisition, sometimes all three simu l taneously, more often two of the three: Five live dancers perform on the Ted Shawn Stage; a sizeable 2:1 aspect-ratio high-definition video screen near the rear of the stage carries the interactions of three dancers, and the powerful and often unrelenting pre-recorded score by David Lang, the Pulitzer-Prize winning composer, propels the scenes.

"WITHIN (Labyrinth Within)" concerns a mysterious love triangle that seems uncertainly real and unreal, recalling the unnerving sensations of Resnais’ 1961 masterpiece, "Last Year at Marienbad."

Lidberg’s original 24-minute film, which inspired the new work, has been augmented with new scenes. In it, Wendy Whelan, the celebrated New York City Ballet principal, is the rather torrid object of the affections of two men, danced by Lidberg and Giovanni Buccheri.

Live on stage, Lidberg, the central lover, is joined by four companions -- two women, Frances Chiaverini and Gabrielle Lamb, and two men, Adrian Danchig-Waring and Jens Weber, forming couples engaged in flirtatious lifts and dips in Lidberg’s fluid choreography that leads to more serious foreplay and beyond.

Throughout much of the 60-minute performance, the scene shifts back and forth between the live dancers and Lidberg’s film, which was shot inside an old castle outside Stockholm and on its surrounding forest and waterfront.

Lidberg has indicated that a purpose of the film is to clarify the inner motives of the stage principals, and three of the live dancers, Lidberg, Lamb and Weber, become off-screen counterparts, providing the illusion that characters move between stage and screen. This is achieved through some adroit lighting by Lidberg and Carolyn Wong and costumes of Karen Young.

Less effective is his attempt to bridge the film and stage by having live dancers perform with backlighting behind the screen, an operation that is awkward and confusing.

Differing from most companies, Morphoses dancers are selected for each new production. Lidberg has chosen a fine cast of international artists for both his film and live activity to execute often intricate and physically challenging steps that visit the realms of both modern and classical dance.

In our world of technology, it is difficult for live-action to compete with film, which enjoys the power of the close-up and the ability to dispatch the viewer anywhere. Lidberg wisely em ploys his film to conclude "WITH IN (Labyrinth Within)," dramatic in its last segment, with quick cuts in and out of a kind of a semi-nude wresting scene involving Lidberg and Buccheri, and the big seduction scene between Lidberg and Whe lan, unbridled in its passion.

Buccheri’s entry into the love nest following his rival’s departure is related in a series of scenes worthy of Resnais, any of the Italian directors of the 1960s or even Alfred Hitchcock. But like those masters, Lidberg, the filmmaker and choreographer, leaves us in limbo. Whelan’s woman appears to love each of her men for different reasons

Finally, it is Lidberg’s film, with its passionate movement, and Lang’s penetrating 14-instrument score -- its menacing chords and the delicate filigree of minimalist phrases executed by cellist Maya Beiser -- that remain seared in the mind.


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