Autumn ended a dreamlike summer residency in Pocantico for Pontus & Co, and we agreed to meet again in October to continue preparation for our scheduled performances at the International Ballet Festival in Havana, Cuba. This was an impossible promise to keep, as time with artists from many different companies—countries, even—in one New York studio (correction! Two, as we continued to commute between Gibneys) proved almost nonexistent. The group’s rehearsals quickly shrank from two weeks to a mere few hours of scattered and sparsely attended review sessions.
I was back in the business of making myself a particularly difficult freelancer to herd. Days after sending Pontus a virtual (emailed) love letter re: our Pocantico residency, I’d settled back into the comfortably uncommitted hectic of my usual extracurriculars: running quickly between school and “work” (instructing SAB’s youngest), and showing up tardy for scheduled rehearsals with mismatched socks, a poorly pinned bun, dying electronics plugged into any available outlet, and an alarm set for my early departure. This behavior does not bother Pontus. He is usually as unruffled as I am frantic. “When you have to leave you’ll leave,” he nods, “and until then, we’ll work.”
I landed in Cuba a day behind the other dancers, carrying at Pontus’s behest a box of several large antlers that had arrived in Brooklyn via Amazon(.com). The antlers made it through customs while my Columbia Spanish failed an Ebola-related entrance interview, during which the company’s presenter eventually came to my aid in assuring my interrogator I was neither Texan nor feverish. At last I was reunited with Pontus Lidberg Dance, but our allotted free time had dwindled. I brought my rusty Balanchine technique to a very Russian ballet class, played entitled tourist in Old Havana (peering invasively into small living spaces) and spent regrettably long hours connected to
The company was otherwise theater-bound, quickly acclimating ourselves to a beautiful and barren performance space that accommodated several visiting bats and only one working toilet (servicing two adjacent performance houses) for which we scavenged paper from our hotel rooms. As Pontus and our stage manager, Carolyn, adjusted to the theater’s tech capabilities, we revisited his Tactile Affinity, with Nadja and Jens gently talking and walking us through the final piece on what would be an all-Pontus program.
Important to Pontus’s choreography, Tactile in particular, is the coordination of focused and detailed ensemble work: the connections—touch, gaze, grasp, catch—dancers (plural) make that are illuminated, but not limited, by how the dancer (singular) hears the music. In the studio, Pontus often acquaints his dancers with each other and with movement in silence, developing among them a chemistry eventually mapped into the often precise musicality of his phrases. We had learned, in Pocantico’s glorious confines, inevitably internalizing and even unconsciously mimicking patterns of our new friends’ speech, laughter, walk, or morning warm-up. In Cuba the task was to expeditiously redefine togetherness within new, more cavernous dimensions. There was more space between us, in every sense of the word.
My partner, Jens, worked tirelessly to smooth the remaining abruptness in my Tactile phrasing. He remained unfazed as I repeatedly hurled too much weight almost horizontally onto his shoulder, my feet spiraling slowly into the air as if climbing an inverted staircase (see photo from previous post, “Pocantico”). The trick, we discovered too many tries later, was to fold gently into it. I was pretty sure Pontus had said that to me several times over the summer: “less.” Our second performance of Tactile felt better than the first. Maybe it was one additional rehearsal that made the difference; maybe it was a relaxing morning we’d all enjoyed together at the beach.
I must be a bunhead, as I often remember the places I’ve traveled by the dancing I’ve done there. Memories from performances of Faune, which opened our opening night, remain the most vivid from my stay in Cuba. The music is Debussy, instantly recognizable to this former New York City Ballet dancer as Jerome Robbins’s Afternoon of a Faun. The dance may at times recall its predecessors, I claim vaguely, with an only abbreviated familiarity with Nijinsky or, for that matter, the Mallarmé. But maybe that doesn’t matter so much. Faune, as it unfolds in Pontus’s care, seems often to elude deliberate reference—and I suspect that is intentional. Pontus doesn’t tell other people, even when asked, what to take away from his work. Though I have not yet studied Faune too closely with him, I do enjoy creating and then overanalyzing my ever-changing narratives, which on some occasions I will audition. I can already picture Pontus’s response to my guesses: “Yes, it could be that. And also, you see…”
We bare everything in Faune, stripped by our peers on stage to our nude briefs. We are more human than nymph, I think, playfully undressed, grappling, and tumbling (see “tumbling passes,” from previous post, “Pocantico”) across the floor and bodies in the seemingly innocent patterns of childlike interaction and nascent sexual curiosity. Here are moments of calm or and there, frenzy: glimmers of untamed desire and aggression highlighted by the urgency with which one quickly robs another of his shirt or twists a friend’s arm, sending a current through a chain of connected limbs. Each finds herself/himself maneuvered, disrobed, accepted, and supported by the others.
All except for one, who is marked by a certain creaturely distinctiveness. This faun—danced always by Pontus—is admitted by his playmates but seemingly ostracized by his own self-conscious reluctance. In a beautiful duet with Gabrielle Lamb, he warms briefly, but readily, to another. But he is at first and again an outsider, isolation seemingly his own choice. He finds a moment alone on stage, donning the crown he has kept carefully hidden from the others. As he places it on his head, he has momentarily conquered his solitude. Soon, however, my startling entrance signals the inevitable return of the others, who eventually strip him and leave him standing, alone.
Before the faun’s last reveal, Pontus will quickly turn to survey the group surrounding him. The moment his eyes meet mine is always a heart-stopping stage second for me—and I savor it, still. In his eyes I read anticipation, curiosity, even fear. I wonder what he sees in mine. Actually, I often wonder what he sees, how he sees. He will explore Havana with keen eyes, a poised camera, and a brisk pace while I follow a few steps behind, observing his curiosity. He will find an abandoned outdoor pool in which to film a new duet at sunrise while the rest of us sleep. I will hand him, with some confusion, a pile of loose antlers from my overstuffed suitcase and he will nimbly fashion by hand his crown for Faune. Wherever I am with Pontus—Havana, New York City, paradise aka Pocantico, even (next stop!) Pittsburgh— he creates a world of his own. It is wonderful to exist with him, even briefly, in this magical place.