Jin Ju Song-Begin’s evening-length piece Thirst, for her company Da-On Dance, was a strongly-danced interpretation of Dante’s Inferno, though it aped too many contemporary, “serious” dance contrivances – namely, an overwrought emphasis on intensity.

© Darren Hoffman
© Darren Hoffman

Ms Song-Begin was the featured soloist of her own piece, and she was often the highlight. Her long, black hair whipped around as if controlled by an electrical current, and her grief and desolation – she almost resembled Dante himself – seemed to generate from her core, which felt appropriate. Her costume could become a dress or a seeming tube of fabric that could extend above her head: a cylinder of black fabric, far too reminiscent of Martha Graham’s Lamentation outfit. Her dancers, all talented performers, fared slightly less well. I found myself distracted by their numerous costume changes and soon grew bored with their flailing limbs and energy-depleted dives to the floor.

In one beatific moment, Esmé Boyce and Giulia Carotenuto were each lifted overhead by two male performers. Their supple backs alternated between a forward slump over their partners’ shoulders and a raised backward arch, with articulate fingers. Ms Boyce’s digits were angular and knotted; Ms Carotenuto’s were languid and elegant. This difference in detail was pleasing. But difference in detail proved to be a recurring motif amongst the dancers, again to the point of distraction: Though each performer is a sure and dynamic mover, discrepancies in attack and timing threw me from the decidedly depressing atmosphere.

In another picturesque moment, all of the dancers save Ms Song-Begin were clumped in the upstage left corner of the in-the-round space, slowly undulating with limbs and torsos like a graceful bunch of seaweed. Ms Song-Begin pushed her way slowly through the mass, at times becoming part of it and at times thrashing against it. It is an image that has been seen before, of course, but it was still beautiful to look at.

Jerome Begin’s score felt unpleasantly dissonant only when he began reciting text with his voice heavily manipulated. I strained to understand what he was saying and regretted my lack of focus on the dancers whenever I found that happening.

Largely, I felt tired after watching this piece. So much darkness and intensity – this recent need of choreographers to prove that modern dance is worthy of attention because it conveys serious, heavy things – felt forced.

***11