Male emotional impotence in We Solo Men
Until last night Julidans, the international contemporary dance festival, did not hit the ground running. The opening lacked a fitting tribute or Nachruf, as they say in German, to Pina Bausch who passed away the day before the opening. Apparently they did not think it was important enough to cancel the lame discussion on the much-debated Thorbecke Principle. Yesterday’s oversight was corrected to some extent first by Cinedans, the concurrent dance film festival, which screened two documentaries about Bausch and also, indirectly, by the première of We Solo Men by Ann Van den Broek.
In her latest work, the Flemish choreographer takes typical Bausch elements, such as repetition, synchronous sign-language sequences and cross-dressing (two of the six men are actually women, which will be a big surprise to many in the case of the spectacular Cecilia Moisio) and uses them in a personal and contemporary way. The six perform as if they were some sort of ‘boy band’: one act for diverging personalities. They do not have much contact among themselves; they address the audience directly with movements that are an asynchronous sign-language translation of Nick Cave’s song ‘More News from Nowhere’.
Van den Broek presents most of it in the minimal choreographic style that has become typical of her: rhythmic, persistent and compelling – something she inherited from another artistic predecessor, Krisztina de Châtel. In solos and ensemble work the movements designed to communicate, that are totally incomprehensible to the audience, are rehearsed again and again in a staccato fashion to the point that their ineffectiveness becomes almost pitiable. Moving back and forth and vice versa only emphasizes the sense of uselessness. In the choreography, divided by sharply delineated light changes, moods shift as well. From facing down the audience and drawing attention to themselves by assuming macho poses, their posturing dissolves into more vulnerable looks and movements that express their growing insecurity and discomfort. As if Van den Broek is saying that men are caught in an emotional impotence. This is also expressed in the limited floor space Van den Broek allows them in her first ‘work for a large theater’. The white dance floor underneath a geometric jungle of microphones hanging from the ceiling (designed by Niek Kortekaas) only covers about one-third of the stage, but it looks brilliant in the municipal theater’s brand-new Rabozaal.
In short, We Solo Men is well though-out and fleshed-out. It takes hold of the audience and does not let go. Together with her recent choreographies Co(te)lette and I SOLO MENT, it constitutes a powerful trilogy about women, men, their self image, their ideal image and the relationships among them. Julidans should be pleased with Van den Broek’s tempestuous take on the subject.
Francine van der Wiel, NRC Handelsblad, July 6, 2009