For its first edition, the new festival Piano Biennale has invited Introdans to collaborate on a full-length programme, co-produced by de Nieuwe Oost. On May 13, NEXT! premiered: four pieces created by and for dancers from Introdans to music played by pianist Julien Brocal and the festival’s initiator, pianist Daria van den Bercken. She intends to widen the audience for piano music. One of the ways the festival wants to achieve this is to have it interact with other art forms, like dance.

At the beginning of the livestream, Introdans’ artistic director Roel Voorintholt enthuses about the evening and promises an exciting dialogue between live music and dance. We are about to watch four different works, for each of which a choreographer has chosen a piece of music and conceptualised a dance work. Before each piece begins, the artist is briefly interviewed about their inspirations, relationship to the music and creative process. The concept is presented as something novel that will challenge our minds.

The evening kicks off with Ruben Ameling talking about his work. Selfish(n/l)ess explores how to navigate individual identity within social expectations, and makes an analogy between music and society. The opening image shows pianist Daria van den Bercken doing an expressive movement segment with her arms, facing the viewers. Slowly, she walks towards the piano, where five dancers wearing beige tops and black skirts are facing backwards. Fantasia in F-sharp Wq 67 by C.P.E. Bach starts playing as the quintet moves sharply to the melody. Staccato arm movements, reminiscent of the opening scene, give rise to turns, slides, high legs, and movements in canon. As the skirts move, we perceive a colorful layer underneath that matches the flowery dress the pianist herself is wearing.

Next up is a work by Lucas Donner to the piece Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues by composer Frederic Anthony Rzewsk, played by Van den Bercken. Donner is inspired by trees and how they communicate with each other through their roots. He researched this piece by watching documentaries and spending time alone at the studio. Uncharted Grounds starts with a dancer walking whilst others crawl alongside, like treeroots. Their forest of bodies in constant motion creates an array of images. Their costumes in a red palette and the lighting design suggests a warm, earthly atmosphere.

Following is Lago Enigma by Elena Pampoulova. She explains how when she heard the music piece she immediately thought about water drops, and her wish to create an open and relaxed atmosphere in the studio. A dancing quartet made up of a succession of duets and unisons is accompanied by Julien Brocal playing Mompou’s three short pieces entitled Passages.

'DESECRATED SURFEITS'choreografie: Jurriën Schobbenpianisten: Daria van den Bercken en Julien Brocal.
Desecrated Surfeits by Jurriën Schobben | photo: Hans Gerritsen.

To close the evening, Jurriën Schobben choreographs a work sourced from his insight into moodswings and the inner saboteur. The piece DESECRATED SURFEITS is greatly informed by the fact that it is played by two pianos. Both Van den Bercken and Brocal are on stage, playing Soler. Fandango, for two pianos by David Dramm. On stage are eight dancers, men in white trousers and shirtless, and women in short and tight white bodysuits. In an endless series of turns and lifting legs, they sweep across the stage.

The evening left me feeling unsettled. The choreographic concepts struck me as quite naive, the movement language across the works as very similar, not to say identical. Although perhaps the latter shows a clear artistic line within the company, it is a bit much to present the programme as an experimental collaboration from a dance point of view. And although I see the potential in using the combined resources of company and festival to give dancers a platform for exploring choreography, calling them choreographers per se is a bit of a stretch.

Featured photo: Hans Gerritsen (Lago Enigma by Elena Pampoulova)