If using a descriptive word for the title of a show is bold, calling it Heavenly could be flat-out arrogant. But Introdans is an established company of superb dancers. They live up to the expectation with a program of three pieces around this lofty theme.

Rashaen Arts in Heavenly, 10 February 2012 © Hans Gerritsen
Rashaen Arts in Heavenly, 10 February 2012
© Hans Gerritsen

While the Dutch company Introdans is celebrating their 40th anniversary, this year marks their first appearance in the United States. Nils Christe’s Fünf Gedichte opened the program with technically demanding choreography. Set to music by Richard Wagner, the cycle consists of five poems flirting with the issue of mortality, if not directly addressing the afterlife. Certain visual cues suggest life; for example, in the third section Jorge Pérez Martínez holds Yulanne de Groot close to him, surrounded by three men. At once, de Groot stretches the length of her body parallel to the floor and the men burst away from her: the spark of creation. But there are also more abstract elements that make Christe’s choreography come alive. In the first section Zachary Chant’s incredible fluidity adds energy to his lines. This quality is maintained through flawless partnering in the next four sections of Fünf Gedichte. Whether maximizing the height of a lift, or spinning like a top, each pair’s timing is so in sync that both dancers seem unaffected by gravity.

Second in the program is Gisela Rocha’s Paradise?, a piece that probes the existence of such a place. Rocha’s utopia feels like a large dance studio: the set includes rows of overhead lights, underneath which the dancers move, for the most part, independently of one another. In this space they are able to explore a number of ideas that might not otherwise belong within the same number. One trio takes place close to the ground, the men in a plank position changing levels with their weight on their hands and forearms. One woman sings a contemporary remix of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” threading through the dancers. She holds a microphone and gets in their faces as though the lyrics are part of a conversation between them. Jazz music interrupts the otherwise contemporary sound and a spotlight follows Rashaen Arts, now dressed in all white, as he taps across the stage. Anything can happen in Rocha’s Paradise? but is that freedom a relief, or part of purgatory?

Messiah, part of Introdans’ repertoire since 1988, is the perfect conclusion for the evening. Ed Wubbe’s choreography matches the music of Handel’s Messiah and finds unique ways to express the subject. Most of the dancers wear black unitards with negative space cut around the neck lines until a figure appears behind a skrim upstage in a brilliant white skirt. The long, full skirts, worn by both men and women, are constantly swirled in a circular motion, like Caribbean dancers. When the skirts are seen unobstructed center stage, the brilliant white fabric seems to radiate light, and the effect is beautiful and surprising.

In contrast, while in black the dancers’ movements are characterized by straight lines and angles. At times the women wear long black skirts reminiscent of Martha Graham’s iconic imagery. In one duet the woman extends one leg in front of her, turned in, straight from her hip. At the height of each lift she repeats the same lines, legs straight, reaching even higher. Messiah is a dance of constant visual opposition, light versus dark, curves versus lines. In this way, Webb represents the dichotomy of good and evil at the heart of most faiths. Messiah, however, is not about one side prevailing over the other, but about celebrating the fact that both exist. In the last moments the dancers repeat the same motion, bowing forwards and stepping back, arms wide in a V shape, chest and face arched high.

Heavenly shows off the company’s strength and athleticism through these three works. The dancers’ energy is relentless and their performance exciting and dynamic. With any luck, Introdans will make a habit of returning to the US for the next 40 years.