In an earlier review – about NDT’s Shadow’s Whispers – I already touched upon how filmed dance performances can actually add to a dance experience. The opposite is also true: when the way the performance is filmed actually detracts from the overall experience. Sadly, this was the case with the online streaming event Pretpakket by Introdans, seen March 6, filmed at Stadsschouwburg Nijmegen.
Pretpakket is focused on one choreography: Wrapped by Inbal Pinto, which originally premiered in 1997 in Tel Aviv. Introdans incorporated fragments of the piece in earlier programmes (this is the first time Introdans performs the choreography in its entirety). It is not hard to understand why. Wrapped plays more like a succession of vignettes than as a coherent story.
One of the fragments Introdans already had on repertoire was the opening scene. First, two pairs of – very expressive – legs are all that can be seen. If it were possible to say that legs can gesticulate, pointing and interacting with each other, that is the term I would use. When the curtain goes up, the owners of the legs – Alexis Geddes and Jamy Schinkelshoek – become visible, sitting on a bench at the front of the stage. The wallpapered division behind them creates an intimate setting. The gesticulating continues – now with all limbs participating – but the movements have a slight mechanical feel, like the two women are wound up dolls, whirring and clicking. A feeling that is underscored by the clacking and tongue popping sounds the dancers make themselves, underscoring every movement. It’s a fun sequence that works well on its own.
Then the wallpaper lifts to reveal a much larger, more austere space. The wall in the back is seemingly made of concrete, with a large slit in the middle. More dancers appear, wearing grey oversized overcoats and loosely fitted pyjamas. One (Aymeric Aude) is wearing a paper hat, another comes bearing a large propeller. Amongst all the drab colours, three girls (Geddes, Schinkelshoek, Elena Pampoulova) stand out in their bright red dresses.
It is around this time that the registration starts to lead a life of its own. The dancer with the paper hat re-emerges, this time with a girl (Léa Visser) sitting on his shoulders. By focusing solely on Aymeric and Visser, the camera – and the audience – lose sight of the three ballerinas. Are they still there? (A later shot shows us that, yes, they are). What have they been doing? We will never know. In that one moment, our spatial perspective is lost.
Time and time again camera choices are made that are often baffling, and sometimes downright frustrating. There are close-ups of dancing legs, while whole bodies are moving. Inevitably, some of the visual jokes get lost as well. This is especially apparent in a scene with four men in skirts who are towering over a decidedly shorter girl (Visser). The whole sequence is filmed in close up. Only at the end, when the camera zooms out, we realise why there was such a difference in length. Visser wasn’t necessarily shorter; the men were all walking on stilts.
Before corona, registrations were usually edited afterwards. This time the filmed performance has been edited live, switching from camera to camera, zooming in or zooming out. It is a bigger, but not impossible challenge. Intricate camerawork requires choreography, just as much as the actual performance does. With Pretpakket it feels like all decisions are made in the moment. This feels like a missed opportunity.
It makes it hard to form a really accurate overview of the performance. Some fragments remain strong, as is the case with the opening sequence, and the scene of a woman in a red bathing suit (Pampoulova), seen through the slit in the wall, veering from one side to the other, then moving jerkily on the sounds of a typewriter. Or the solo with Schinkelshoek dancing in front of and later becoming entangled in a huge cloth dotted with hearts.
Other parts are more troubling now than they probably were when the piece was created in 1997 – Wrapped won a coveted Bessie Award in 2000 – especially in the scenes where the dancers seem to be inmates of an asylum, with their shuffling walk, exaggerated facial expressions, and guttural sounds. In one scene a dancer, out of nowhere, even (fake) spits in another dancer’s face. It is also hard to imagine someone creating a duet in 2021 in which two dancers are wearing a one-piece costume as if they were conjoined twins. It is a somewhat puzzling choice for Introdans, since earlier this year, the company launched HubClub, a great initiative celebrating diverse and inclusive dance.
In this case, in this moment, the whole may not be greater than the sum of its parts.