‘Black Diamond’ by Danish Dance Theatre at The Kennedy Center

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The choreographic universe Tim Rushton created for his evening-length contemporary ballet Black Diamond is made up of an engaging accretion of enticing, quirky, and oddball moments in movement. The two-part piece, danced with earthy exactitude by the 13-member Danish Dance Theatre on its return visit to The Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater yesterday, feels like a cross between The Matrix and a Steampunk rendition of Swan Lake. The last time the company visited The Kennedy Center in 2013 as part of the Nordic Cool Festival, it brought Rushton’s sappy “Love Songs,” a series of romantically inspired duets to jazz pop standards (think “My Funny Valentine”).

Danish Dance Theatre's 'Black Diamond.' Photo by Soren Meisner.
Danish Dance Theatre’s ‘Black Diamond.’ Photo by Soren Meisner.

There’s nothing sappy nor love struck in this 2014 work, Black Diamond. With a glossy, sci-fi-like setting, Rushton, who has directed the company since 2001, seems to pit good against evil, black against white, male against female, frailty against strength, and human against alien in a battle for dominance. It’s both an edifying and frustrating experience. Set against Johan Kolkjaer’s backdrop that glimmers, catching light and shadow like wrinkled aluminum foil, the piece unfurls slowly, building closer to a nearly fully realized ending.

Part one is the dark act in Rushton’s futuristic universe: two dancers, faces concealed beneath net masks, hover above a third, who is splayed out on the floor. Their undulating arms and torsos seem to be conjuring something — a spell perhaps, or a whisper, or a formula? The stage fills, and the black-clad dancers, women in halters and jagged-hemmed skirts or shimmery gold and black slacks, the men in half-vests and “Matrix”-style long frock coats, take to Rushton’s movement motifs for the work, drawing from roots in classical ballet, but pushing outside that staid and true-to-form box. There are deep earthy lunges that the dancers animate into swingy walks, and quirky, staccato head bobs and twitches, that go by quickly as if maybe you almost missed them.

Sometimes a group of dancers looks ready to take flight, then they lift one of their own airborne, other times they stalk the stage as if in search of prey. Throughout, momentum guides and drives them, and sometimes they bounce back and forth, like a launched tennis ball. Small groups and clumps form and dissipate throughout to a score that cuts sharply from the dj-styled Trentemoller to the Balanescu Quartet to techno by Tom Opdahl and the heartfelt lushness of Phillip Glass’ Violin Concerto No. 2.

The second part of Black Diamond is lighter in color and richer in movement themes and qualities. The backdrop is no longer a shiny oil slick of metal, now it’s glimmering light, in pale silver, lit by Jacob Bierregaar. The costumes, designed by Charlotte Ostergaard, are the palest of silver-gray, with layered fabric appliqués, some of which become, once again, netted masks for the dancers to don. Two dancers, in head-to-toe white body stockings lie center stage as others maneuver around and manipulate them.

When they ultimately rise to dance, their movements are robotic, unearthly – or at least not of Rushton’s world. The surrounding dancers too take up those sometimes awkward, sometimes spastic pointed angular motions. The choreographer once noted that he had thoughts of hip hop in mind in creating this work, and the body rhythms and some of that street vocabulary has filtered into the work. But the dancers by virtue of their training and experience have transformed the typical hip hop body isolations, jerking, earthy stylizations of street dance into something completely different. Pop and locking, as filtered through the bodies of these white clad dancers, takes on an entirely different demeanor. It’s otherworldly, alien, oddly desensitized from the body, almost antiseptic.

'Black Diamond.' Photo by by Soren Meisner.
‘Black Diamond.’ Photo by by Soren Meisner.

A sense of mystery takes hold as the dancers become more extreme in their movement attack, some are dyspeptic, others erupt into brief spasms or jagged shapes dissimilar to the balletic world where Rushton came of age, as a student at the famed Royal Ballet in London. This interesting tug between the exactitude of refined balletic elements and this other worldly alien-like execution ultimately compels.

And finally, like any good classicist or romantic, Rushton offers up a final transformative note. One of those white clad bodystockinged dancers is disrobed. Stepping out of her unitard, her nakedness represents on more than just the physical, but reflects on the nature of the work as a futuristic journey into a bold and brave new world. One, though, where ultimately the human form, the human body, the female body — bare, breathtaking and beautiful — represents humanity’s – and Rushton’s — future hope.

Running Time: Approximately 95 minutes, with one intermission.

Black Diamond by Danish Dance Theatre was performed on October 19, 2016 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets to future events, go to their calendar.

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Lisa Traiger
An arts journalist since 1985, Lisa Traiger writes frequently on the performing arts for Washington Jewish Week and other local and national publications, including Dance, Pointe, and Dance Teacher. She also edits From the Green Room, Dance/USA’s online eJournal. She was a freelance dance critic for The Washington Post Style section from 1997-2006. As arts correspondent, her pieces on the cultural and performing arts appear regularly in the Washington Jewish Week where she has reported on Jewish drum circles, Israeli folk dance, Holocaust survivors, Jewish Freedom Riders, and Jewish American artists from Ben Shahn to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim to Y Love, Anna Sokolow to Liz Lerman. Her dance writing can also be read on DanceViewTimes.com. She has written for Washingtonian, The Forward, Moment, Dance Studio Life, Stagebill, Sondheim Review, Asian Week, New Jersey Jewish News, Atlanta Jewish Times, and Washington Review. She received two Simon Rockower Awards for Excellence in Arts Criticism from the American Jewish Press Association; a 2009 shared Rockower for reporting; and in 2007 first-place recognition from the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association. In 2003, Traiger was a New York Times Fellow in the Institute for Dance Criticism at the American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C. She holds an M.F.A. in choreography from the University of Maryland, College Park, and has taught dance appreciation at the University of Maryland and Montgomery College, Rockville, Md. Traiger served on the Dance Critics Association Board of Directors from 1991-93, returned to the board in 2005, and served as co-president in 2006-2007. She was a member of the advisory board of the Dance Notation Bureau from 2008-2009.