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Nelly van Bommel, Pinguli Pinguli
Nelly van Bommel, Pinguli Pinguli
Company / Show / Event
Nelly van Bommel, Pinguli Pingul
Venue / Location
Baryshnikov Arts Center
A bit about you:
(your occupation, the last time you moved, your website, etc.)
Graduate of the Conservatory of Dance at SUNY Purchase, dancer and choreographer living in Brooklyn
Nelly van Bommel, recently named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to watch,” is known for her sense of humor and use of traditional and folk motifs in her choreography. The premiere of “Pinguli Pinguli” at Baryshnikov Arts Center on Wednesday, April 18th upheld this reputation and offered many more unexpected insights.
“Pinguli Pinguli,” set to a recording of traditional songs from Sicily, Sardinia, and Greece, opens with Sarah Stanley alone on stage, delicately pulling at her hair and self-consciously stroking her face. This elegant image is immediately contrasted by the ecstatic Sarah Oppenheim, who gallops and giggles around the stage, totally high on the thrill of her own existence. Her facial expressions are so magnetic and enticing that when Kat Rhodes’s stern voice barks out “Sarah! Focus!”, we find ourselves also forced out of her goofy, dream-like world. This opening interaction is just the first of a series of skit-like episodes that, in combination, tell a bizarre and fascinating story.
The shift in mood from scene to scene is so abrupt that it teeters on absurdity. Often, blatantly serious scenes will be so dramatic that they take on a humorous quality, and vice versa; the work is at once hysterically funny and utterly tragic. But somewhere in the depths of this emotional roller coaster is a powerful reality to which we can identify. In one of the most outrageous and memorable scenes of the piece, Kat Rhodes sits on a bench and sternly watches as, one by one, the other dancers sit down beside her, burst into tears, and are dismissed. By the end of the scene, the entire group fills the theater with visceral sobbing. The whole interaction is incredibly bizarre, and our immediate reaction is to laugh- and honestly, it is quite funny. But isn’t life sometimes just that strange? Haven’t we all found ourselves, at one point or another, uncontrollably hysterical in the presence of total strangers (or physically immobilized in front of a large group of people?). Nelly’s choreography captures a powerful reality in the depths of absolute absurdity. As an audience, we can relate to it because it touches on the absurdity of our existence.
And the characters! How could she possibly have dreamed up such bizarre characters and such strange scenarios?? One of the greatest things about Nelly is her wide-eyed, almost child-like perspective on the world; this exuberance and enthusiasm keeps her work fresh and interesting. In Pinguli, Nelly’s fascination with developing details manifests itself in the fabulous characters she creates. She is acutely observant and clever; she takes on the personal qualities and habits of her individual dancers and meticulously exaggerates them until they develop into these distinct and beautiful creatures. The result is comparable to a Dali painting; the original inspiration is recognizable, but has been distorted to the point of abstraction. Of course, knowing the dancers personally, the cleverness manifests itself much more effectively, but an unacquainted audience also marvels at the uniqueness of each of the animals onstage and their strange relationships to one another. Like a dream, we let the surreal atmosphere wash over us.
Beyond the characters and theatrical scenes, there are powerful moments of physical clarity, instances that indulge the audience’s urge to witness physical virtuosity. These simple, rousing unisons effectively combine folk dance elements with more contemporary movement, and offer the satisfaction of glimpsing into a European dance hall and watching a particularly energetic polka, or something of the sort. The juxtaposition of more focused theatrical vignettes with these large group moments provided an interesting contrast, and helped hold our attention.
I left this show feeling inexplicably emotional. The work had the unique effect of conjuring subconscious feelings and memories; perhaps it was the dream-like atmosphere that the piece created. Regardless, Nelly van Bommel is a woman who knows the incredible power of dance as a communicative tool, and uses it to it’s fullest. Pinguli was a beautiful example of this.