Steps That Tell Stories

Can any style of dance be used to portray a narrative? I started to think about whether certain types of movement tell stories better than others after seeing  Edward Clug's Radio And Juliet at NYU's Skirball Center this weekend. I'd been super excited for it. The hour-long work is a contemporary ballet version of Romeo and Juliet set to the music of Radiohead. Sounds awesome, right?

 

As a huge Radiohead fan, I loved watching their music translated into the body. The Forsythe-like choreoraphy was eye-popping. It was the type of movement that makes me want to jump out of my seat to learn it on the spot so that I can feel it on my own body.

 

But the steps seemed to be completely at odds with the story-telling. Fractured, slick and almost robotic, the choreography would have been awesome if Clug had simply let it be abstract. Yet he tried to use an emotionally-detached movement quality to tell Romeo and Juliet, one of the most emotional stories even written. It was so unclear what the steps were intimating that when the lights came up for the curtain call, it took the audience a few extra seconds to realize the ballet had  ended. An awkward silence hung over the theater before it dawned on us that, Oh, now's the part where we clap.

 

I could have watched Clug's choreography for hours. But he was trying to do one thing too many. Sleek and cool movement may be gorgeous on its own, but it would take a true artistic genius to make it say something more.