On January 24, 1975, a 29-year-old American arrived to play a solo concert at the opera house in Cologne. Sleepless and hungry, he discovered that he had been furnished a shoddy piano and nearly refused to perform.
The recording from that concert, over an hour of mercurial improvisation, went on to become the bestselling piano album in music history.
To the first 30 minutes of Keith Jarrett’s legendary The Köln Concert, Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa has crafted Prism. It’s a reverie for 10 dancers, delivered last night by Silicon Valley Ballet with allure and panache as part of the company’s "Director’s Choice" program.
Prism takes unexpected turns in concert with Jarrett’s improvisations, which hint at gospel, blues, lilting folk melodies, Rachmaninoff, and shimmering pattern music. The dancers weave in and out of each other’s orbit with astonishing fluidity. Though the couplings and triplings are evanescent, moments of stillness yield eloquent, poignant tableaux. When the score turns minimalist, however, Lopez Ochoa wittily mocks contemporary psychosexual ballet -- her dancers emerge in clingy leotards with a spidery motif and chic diaphanous gloves, and contort themselves in byzantine poses.
Jarrett’s famous vocalizations are heard throughout the score: murmuring, groaning, sighing, crooning, and a satisfied “Yeahhh” – at which moment Lopez Ochoa ships in a couple in bright pink and orange. Among the crackerjack cast on opening night, Ommi Pipit-Suksun made sensational body lines.
Having just blown in from a tour of eight cities in Spain, the company appeared somewhat jet-lagged in the other two big pieces of the evening – Jorma Elo’s frenetic Glow Stop and Ohad Naharin’s raucous Minus 16. And it’s best to draw a veil over the classical pas de deux that opened the evening, Diana and Actaeon, though an adorable Junna Ige and a rather anxious-looking Maykel Solas -- who wore a very skimpy veil indeed over areas of critical musculature -- tackled the hoary work ably enough.
Glow Stop heaves a mass of punctuation and diacritical marks into the language of ballet. It’s a damned strenuous business for the dancers, who employ their arms, hands and heads as frantically as their legs and feet -- and often in opposing directions. The dancers are bits of interlocking machinery, their faces stern and unreadable in the dramatic lighting designed by Brad Fields.
19 dancers identically attired in dark suits and fedoras execute the oppressive yet strangely uplifting rituals of Minus 16. Not every one displays the ideal feral quality of movement. But the haunting scene in which the dancers fling themselves in and out of metal chairs while chanting a traditional Hebrew song is powerful despite the jet-lag, or whatever other affliction the dancers faced.
The work also includes moments of audience participation. Of the audience members herded on stage to participate in the final wild scene on opening night, the woman in red and the bearded gentleman in plaid and glasses displayed great aplomb. And the woman with the yellow scarf – possibly a grassroots organizer – showed commendable initiative in her attempt to free the group from what appeared to be a very dicey moment in the clutches of the wily dancers.
Silicon Valley Ballet’s "Director’s Choice" program runs through Sunday, Feb. 21 at San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, San Jose. For more information, click here.