‘Sutra’ (Photo: Richard Termine)
The White Light Festival is in full force, bringing together a curated program of innovative live performances from around the world. Presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the festival draws its name from a quote by composer Arvo Pärt:
I could compare my music to white light, which contains all colors. Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.
This year’s festival, under the leadership of Jane Moss (Ehrenkranz Artistic Director) includes a number of boundary-pushing dance ensembles. In an interview with Karissa Krenz, Ms. Moss said, “In a sense, this year’s festival could be considered, in part, an art-of-body festival. What’s especially interesting to me is that we’re featuring non-classical dance, and most of the presentations blend many different styles. That fusion enables these pieces to get at the root of what connects all of us.”
Broadway Blog editor Matthew Wexler attended two performances as the festival kicked off last week. Here are his thoughts:
This muscular, gravity-defying work first appeared at the inaugural White Light Festival in 2010, and its thrilling return was highly anticipated by those who heard wind of the performance after its initial run. Belgian director/choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui spent several months in China’s Henan Province, observing monks from Shaolin Temple and their kung fu practice.
The result is a dynamic, ever-shifting visual feast that relies on 21 wooden boxes designed by British sculptor Antony Gormley — all precariously moved about, stacked, tipped, climbed upon by a cast of 17 monks, Mr. Cherakaoui and a young boy navigate the evolving landscape and mirror the stage patterns with a Jenga-size configuration downstage right from the main action.
You might not immediately consider the deep, historical connection between martial arts and Buddhism, but as a means of self-defense, their intertwined relationship dates back to the Chinese Middle Ages. This included using the Buddhist emblem of the staff and eventually evolving into empty-handed fighting known as quan.
All of this movement vocabulary informs Mr. Cherkaoui’s work, but it is its universality and emotion that resonates beyond its historical significance. Through various movements, the young boy and Mr. Cherakaoui display a sort of intimate bond, not as literal as father/son but one that carries them on a journey that separates and eventually unites them.
The boxes create exciting obstacle courses for the pair, evoking images of survival, perseverance, seclusion, peace, separatism, and more. Sutra proves that great storytelling doesn’t require a linear arch. Instead, this evocations pull at the heartstrings by shape and gesture, strengthened by an original score by Szymon Brzóska.
This New York premiere features the work of Company Wang Ramirez, a collaboration between Honji Wang and Sébastien Ramirez. The pair utilizes a rigging system so the company of dancers can challenge our perception of gravity, juxtaposing the movement with skeletal geometric forms. Pulling from the world of hip-hop while also providing a visual commentary such as the use of traditional Korean costume and stiletto heels, the 70-minute piece delivers in its mission to create an exciting sense of tension and weightlessness.
Where Borderline misses the mark is in its emotional life, which feels stagnant in comparison to its physical exploration of connectivity, even with the inclusion of some spoken word, such as the often-heard experiment with how water absorbs emotion, translated here to a bowl of rice. Performers Louis Backer, Johanna Faye, Saïdo Lehlouh, and Alister Mazzotti all bring their A-game, and it was only in Borderline’s curtain call where each of them had the opportunity to freestyle that we saw flickers of feeling beyond the movement itself.
Upcoming White Light Festival Events
October 31 – November 1
Waiting for Godot
November 2 – 13
Blak Whyte Gray
November 16 – 17
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Read more of his work at wexlerwrites.com.