Thursday, March 21, 2013

From Denmark with love

Caroline Henderson
I admit it. I left Danish Dance Theatre's Love Songs (at Celebrity Series last weekend) a little bit in love myself.

But not, I'm afraid, with Danish Dance Theatre.

No, I fell - and fell hard - for Caroline Henderson, the Danish-Swedish chanteuse (at right) whose moody croons from the American songbook made up the low-key soundtrack to the show.

Ms. Henderson is a find, I'd say, and long overdue for a major Atlantic crossing (and her arrangements, as well as the ensemble backing her, were all equally smooth).  This singer's voice is a languid coo, her tone weathered and knowing, and her heart - well, it may be beaten down, but it's still beating.  In short, Henderson is a new jazz voice worth listening to.  (Her take on "I'm a Fool to Want You" is below.)



I wish I could say I was carrying the same torch for the actual choreography of Love Songs, by British wunderkind Tim Rushton, but alas, I'm not - even though at first Rushton's touch seems as sure as Henderson's, and the opening sequences are subtly wonderful.  

We initially watch the dancers warm up onstage before a vaguely Chorus-Line-ish line of chairs; this feels slightly kitschy, but you know, whatever. Then the work proper starts, and Rushton's fearless performers throw themselves - sometimes literally - into a smooth, suave series of lifts and tumbles that in its nonchalant lyricism feels just right for a kind of choreographic club date.  The permutations pile up - couples morph into trios and solos and back again (see teaser video below) - and as one number follows the next, a loose set of "characters" begins to take shape; so we fully expect the dance to eventually get to the sadder-but-wiser place that Henderson's vocals are calling from.

But that never happens.  In fact not much really happens - the casual-Friday romances just grind on, although the same offhand virtuosity is maintained from song to song.  And so we begin to wonder, is "Come Rain or Come Shine" really so much like "All of Me," and are either at all like "My Funny Valentine"?  Watching these young players churn through a millennial version of La Ronde, you begin to sense the na├»ve suggestion that the American songbook amounts to little more than sophisticated elevator music.


Love Songs - Trailer from Danish Dance Theatre on Vimeo.

Rushton does take a few breaks from the rush of this ongoing choreographic stream.  When one dancer stole a kiss that another turned down, the absent Ms. Henderson seemed to stop her set dead in its tracks to offer some romantic advice to the overeager Romeo.  This was cute - as was Henderson's recounting of her own first kiss - but little more.  Later the dancers all undressed and changed into more sparkly duds.  This was hot - but little more; as the curtain fell I found myself struggling to remember much about what I'd just seen.  Of course if "cute and hot" is all Rushton is aspiring to, then Love Songs counts as a triumph.  But to my mind, he's short-changing his own talent - as well as the obvious talents of his company.  Dancers like Maxim-Jo Beck McGosh, Emily Nicalaou, Ana Sendas, Fabio Liberti, and Arina Trostyanetskaya could obviously all dig far deeper than they're ever given the chance to here - there are poignant flickers of genuine connection and lonely loss throughout their performances. Which makes you think that with something like a real emotional (as well as choreographic) arc, Love Songs could sing a song worth remembering.

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