Carte Blanche is the national contemporary dance company of Norway, and they are presenting their work in New York for the first time as part of ICE HOT: A Nordic Dance Festival at the Joyce Theatre. According to the press release, Corps de Walk, the work set on the company by Israeli artists Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar (formerly of Batsheva Dance Company) and presented here this evening, is the choreographers’ investigation of corps de ballet, the ensemble that lives in the shadows of the principal dancers’ limelight.

Carte Blanche: Corps de Walk © Erik Berg
Carte Blanche: Corps de Walk
© Erik Berg

As it turns out, I only read the press release some time after viewing the actual performance; it is a habit of mine – I would argue, to my advantage. Indeed, corps de ballet was not at all what I was thinking about as I experienced this production. Though the stage is bare, Eyal and Behar create a richly atmospheric world through sound, lighting and the eerie presence of androgynous (or, I should say, gender-neutral) ensemble of dancers, clad in perfectly seamless nude body suit – a second skin of sorts – and outfitted with blue-gray contact lenses, endowing them all with a striking husky-dog-worthy gaze.

As the lights slowly fade up, a cluster of pale bodies center stage emerges from the fog, enveloped in jungle sounds. The initial image, suggestive of something natural and Eden-like, however, is almost immediately replaced by man-made artifice. The bodies on stage – I say “bodies”, because the dancers are closer to mannequins in their appearance than living flesh – along with the clipped, gestural, automaton-like choreography produce a distinctly dehumanizing effect. The topography of movement veers heavily towards the geometric, invoking the images of military formations, industrial assembly lines, or possibly, marching zombies. (For a moment, Daft Punk’s Around The World floats in and out of my consciousness.) The music, culled from the vaults of good old industrial/techno standards, including Einstürzende Neubauten and Aphex Twin among others, masterfully mixed by DJ Ori Lichtik, provides a relentless thumping pulse to the alien-like proceedings on stage, and never lets go. After a while, the sum total of all these elements of spectacle produces a hypnotic effect, making my mind leap through a catalog of associations. Is this a cloning experiment? The bodies on stage could be replicants in an early stage of programming, before the unseen creators endowed them with individual character. Next, I am zooming in on a microscopic level, thinking of these throbbing creatures as cells, our bodies’ relentless factory workers.

As it marches on, the alchemical cauldron of Corps de Walk incorporates touches of Israeli folkloric dance, and at times feels like a sort of avant-garde disco worthy of a music video. And yet, in spite of the alienating effect of disjointed bodies and industrial soundtrack, the relentless thumping makes me think of a heartbeat – or, perhaps, the hearts of everyone in this space, beating here in unison. There is something peculiarly addictive about the whole experience, a communal sense akin to a rave party. Eventually, the piece winds it way down to silence and returns to its initial image as lights fade to black. With that, the experience comes full circle to me, and – curiously enough – I walk away with the sensation of having experienced something much more organic in nature than I first expected. And, curiously enough, the work’s balletic origins are certainly not on my mind.

***11