JuxtaPOSE is right around the corner. And as we look forward to what is sure to be an extraordinary evening of dance, we get to take a stroll down memory lane with Coma, one of the best-loved ballets in the FBP repertory. Below, Dance Magazine writer Theodore Bale’s perspective on Viktor Plotnikov’s Coma from April, 2007.
Skepticism loomed when I heard that choreographer Viktor Plotnikov made a new ballet inspired by Michael Crichton’s 1978 film Coma. That is, until the curtain opened, and then I gasped along with the rest of the audience. From its first startling scene where suspended bodies float and sway horizontally to the simple tolling of bells, it’s evident that Plotnikov’s Coma is not merely a danced sci-fi thriller but rather an emphatic and deeply personal effort, realized with singularity and intelligence.
Experienced viewers could see both the classical legacy and a unique contemporary sensibility in Plotnikov’s latest dance. Those new to the ballet experience appeared to be won over as well, evidenced by the standing ovation at the conclusion of the premiere by Festival Ballet Providence.
We need more choreographers like Plotnikov, who revere tradition while forging a new language, and still command the attention of an everyday family audience. Well-organized into three movements (titled Our Dreams, Reality, and Their Dreams) and set to an assortment of passionate music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, Coma has no obvious narrative. It deals in polarities: horizontal against vertical, those traveling and those caught motionless, the praying and the ones being prayed for. The absence of plot keeps this ballet dreamy and imaginative, like the middle section of Fokine’s Spectre de la Rose. And as Coma progresses, it becomes apparent that polarity is embedded into the movement itself. A woman crosses the stage in a series of vigorous deboulé turns, but her elbows are at sharp 45-degree angles, pointed down, instead of the traditional soft oval. A quick set of petit jetés seems at odds with static, robotic gestures in an upper body. But it’s these sorts of contradictions that make Plotnikov’s work so compelling. When the dancers are traveling, they usually began with a vicious thrust of the arm to send them on their way. There is also daring floor work juxtaposed against the still bodies floating in the middle of the proscenium space. Ensemble passages for the nine dancers came in the form of interlaced duets performed in canon, or staggered unisons, organized in a seamless fashion that kept one’s eye moving from event to event without noticing entrances and exits.
What makes this work so exciting is Plotnikov’s skillful blend of cryptic, non-ballet movement and gesture with good old-fashioned ballet showmanship. In the second movement there is an unexpected lift – a ballerina stands triumphantly on a man’s shoulders as if she’s about to ascend into the realm of the comatose -but he isn’t yet ready to let her go. After a long stint with Boston Ballet as a principal dancer and now-and-then fledgling choreographer in Boston Ballet’s Raw Dance series, with Coma Plotnikov proves himself to be deeply accomplished.
Coma will be presented as part of JuxtaPOSE at The Vets, March 13 and 14. More information and tickets: http://www.thevetsri.com/events/detail/festival-ballet-providence-presents-juxtapose.