Grupo Sportivo

On paper, sports and dance have different objectives. In the first, movement has a mostly practical function: you move to win, or to be the best. In the second, it is artistic: you move to evoke. But sports and dance can also overlap, just think of the use of martial arts in dance (like Sutra performed by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and seventeen shaolin monks), or the pieces POLE and BALL by Guilherme Miotto. Introdans dedicates a whole program to the ways sports and dance can come together in their family show Grupo Sportivo, seen November 8 at Stadsschouwburg Haarlem.

Of all the pieces from Grupo Sportivo – there are five – Dream Play by Fernando Melo is definitely the most imaginative. In the course of twenty minutes the dancers perform every imaginable kind of acrobatic feat: from walking a tightrope to lifting whole dancers by using just one arm. The different formations in a choreographic routine with four female dancers and 8 umbrellas could just have easily come from a synchronized swimming number (on second thought, they would probably have left out the umbrellas).

The catch: in reality, the dancers never lose contact with the ground. The principal dancers are all lying on the floor while a camera looks down on them straight from the ceiling. The images, projected onto a large screen positioned just above the dancers, create the illusion that the dancers are actually standing upright. Melo, expertly invoking the spirit of filmmaker and illusionist Georges Méliès, has fun with all the possibilities this ingenious set-up provides. A ball can ‘fall’ from the sky with the velocity of a snowflake, and people can hurl through the air as if they were in outer space. It lends the scenes in Dream Play a magical feel, magnified by the music of Erik Satie (there is also some Frédéric Chopin).

Melo’s real masterstroke is his decision to show both the illusion and the secret behind the illusion: the audience also gets to see the dancers working ‘behind the scenes,’ pulling on strings, rolling balls, pushing dancers into the frame. It ties in with something Introdans tries to do habitually, especially in family shows: showing set changes between pieces, instead of hiding them behind a curtain.

This was also the case with the change-over between the fabulous Moving Target – an excerpt of a bigger piece by Conny Janssen – featuring three male dancers suspended upside down on high bars and the world premiere of Squad, by former Introdans dancer Jorge Pérez Martínez. The technicians were still busy moving the three high bars when the six female dancers from Squad entered the stage.

Looking purely at the setting, it is very tempting to think Pérez Martínez had it easiest. The short skirts, the sports socks, the high ponytails and the warpaint all scream cheerleaders. The huge lamps by Berry Claassen deserve a special mention. They brilliantly evoke the lighting above a sports stadium. The dancers even start a countdown.

But from the moment the actual dancing starts, the sports metaphors all melt away. The six dancers dutifully move from pose to pose, in groups, in trios and duets, but whatever connotations the poses evoke, it isn’t sports related. The vibe is more high school than cheerleader, especially in a duet between two girls (Alexis Geddes and Demi Verheezen) who try to follow a pre-ordained routine, while also trying to one-up each other.

I wish Pérez Martínez had drawn on this theme even further, making the choreography about a group of high school girls trying to get their (cheerleading) act together, but with schoolgirl issues getting in the way. That way the classical music by Edvard Grieg would have posed as a nice juxtaposition to the exaggeration. One trio starts promisingly enough, when one dancer (Cristina Pastore) enters as a diva – sunglasses and all – but once the glasses come off and the dancing starts, she is just one of the girls. Pérez Martínez made a splash with Azul, part of the Méditerranée program in 2017 and inspired by flamenco and Spanish guitar music. For a program that is focused on sports, Squad, sadly, drops the ball.

No one will be at a loss to figure out what sport served as inspiration for Freistoss, a short choreography by Roberto Scafati (from 2001). The audience is transported to a football pitch where one team (jerseys provided by Arnhem’s professional football club Vitesse), accompanied by Charles Aznavour’s Sur ma vie, is getting ready for a penalty kick. Of course, in professional football, things are never that easy.

For the final piece of the evening, we move in from the outdoors with Eight Heads by Daniel Ezralow (originally made in 1988 for the Batsheva Dance Company, on the Introdans repertoire since 2002). The stage is transformed into a gymnasium with six dancers sitting in the bleachers, while two dancers are engaged in a friendly game of body fencing. The dance is very physical, pushed forward by the metronomic momentum of Philip Glass’ music (including Serra Pelada from Powaqqatsi). The choreography is an irresistable combination of precision and athleticism, at one point the eight dancers move across and around the bleachers, crossing each other, but still arriving back at the same point, as if Pacman had merged with an Escher drawing. Eight Heads leaves you feeling energized and enervated, like after a vigorous work-out.

Seen: November 8, Stadsschouwburg Haarlem.

Photo: Hans Gerritsen. 

Choreography: Dream Play Fernando Melo | Moving Target (part) Conny Janssen I Squad Jorge Pérez Martínez I Freistoss Roberto Scafati I Eight Heads Daniel Ezralow I credits dance, music, costume and set design: