Conny Janssen's “Rebound”
may have a trampoline center stage, but the most buoyant and affecting moments in this new dance piece have nothing to do with that nonsensical springboard.
In its American debut courtesy of White Bird, Conny Janssen Danst
– a Netherlands-based revolving troupe of internationally reared dancers – offered Janssen's hour-long “Rebound,” from 2005 last weekend at Portland State University's Lincoln Hall. It's an attractive, densely-packed dance for five men, shot through with an emotionally chilly Nordic current.
As the audience enters the theater, the dancers mill about in a three-quarters enclosed padded white box. Outfitted in hip dressy-casual couture (very
Express for Men), the five men inhabit a clinical space void of time, context or history. They could be office workers; they could, as easily, be smartly dressed asylum inmates.
To an all-over-the-map sound score ranging from John Zorn to Aphex Twin, Janssen sends her male dancers gliding, leaping, jumping and bounding across, onto and off of her sterile set. Relationships and conflicts flare up and fizzle, often in only a few minutes – developing character and emotional through-line is the least of Janssen's interests.
There are many highlights: an elegant duo partnering (mop-top Martijn Kappers and tall Kevin Polak) that, in its unexpected placement of a head between legs or the precipitous balancing of a partner on a back, suggests both a psychological and sexual power play. There is an extraordinary sometimes-quartet to driving thumpa-thumpa music in which, at some point, all five men participate, and here Janssen's movement language is entirely her own: a rapid-fire series of hip-hop thrusts and pops dissolves into fast-and-angry floor work, which her company executes with thrilling precision.
And then there is, of course, that trampoline. It makes its appearance about two-thirds of the way into the piece. Janssen has said in interviews that she finds men curious about the world they inhabit, and so, when faced with this new instrument of delight in the dance, the men take to it like curious monkeys – joyfully exploring the limits of their weightless existence, challenging one another to trampoline duels, and generally enjoying themselves. It goes on for about fifteen minutes, and then Janssen moves on to better material.
To her credit, Janssen has recruited five first-rate dancers for the work, all of whom are up to the technical demands of the piece and are also, it turns out in the final rump-shaking segment, great clowns. Amid a group of exceptional peers, Italian-born Dario Tortorelli – compact with brooding bedroom eyes – stands out for clean technique, infectious enthusiasm and pure theatricality.
Among the bouncing around, physical clowning and pure dance, there is but one moment of respite, and it may be the most exquisite part of Janssen's dance. Exhausted from their air play, toys put away, the men simply sit down on stage, leaned up against the giant white padded wall upstage center. They cross their arms or jut out their legs. They breathe. And as a Satie-like halo of piano music envelops the auditorium, their eyes look not skybound, but inward.
(photo above: Conny Janssen's "Rebound," courtesy of White Bird Dance)