Sweden’s Pontus Lidberg Dance makes its Pittsburgh debut

Pontus Lidberg Dance in "Snow." Photo by Petrus Sjövik.
Pontus Lidberg Dance in “Snow.” Photo by Petrus Sjövik.

By Steve Sucato In its Pittsburgh debut, Sweden’s Pontus Lidberg Dance will perform two works by dancer/choreographer Pontus Lidberg that have recently been revamped. Opening the April 18 Pittsburgh Dance Council program will be “Written on Water,” created in 2014 as a duet for American Ballet Theatre principals Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside. The 16-minute abstract work, set to music by Swedish composer Stefan Levin, has been expanded into a trio, says Lidberg, by phone from New York. He describes this “dialogue in movement form” as being “about relating and relationships.” Whereas “Written on Water” creates a dialogue, the program’s second work, “Snow,” creates a world where snow ceaselessly falls, and whose inhabitants wear masks of their own faces. Lidberg has created more than 35 works for companies worldwide, along with several dance films. He was originally commissioned to create “Snow,” set to Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, to honor that iconic score’s centennial, in 2013. But because the contemporary-dance work was unrelated to Rites‘ libretto, Lidberg decided recently to move away from the Stravinsky composition — and any of its connotations for a dance work — in favor of a more contemporary score. He enlisted New York-based composer Ryan Anthony Francis to fashion a new electronic score that would retain the tempos and phrasing of Stravinsky’s, thus eliminating the need to re-choreograph the 37-minute piece.

Pontus Lidberg Dance in "Snow." Photo by Petrus Sjövik.
Pontus Lidberg Dance in “Snow.” Photo by Petrus Sjövik.

Lidberg says that “Snow” is about the fragility of human existence in contrast to the relentless power of nature. He sees its endless snowfall as a philosophical statement. “Even beautiful and gentle snow is hostile to human beings,” says Lidberg. “My idea about snow is it is something bigger than us and our personal views of the world around us. Like the forces of nature, snow happens whether we like it or not.” The work’s four dancers, including Lidberg, are joined by a fifth character, a Japanese-style Bunraku puppet that plays into the work’s theme. Says Lidberg: “Puppets have a special quality that can make them seem more human than humans themselves, fragile and helpless.” In “Snow,” we see only fragments of the characters’ lives played out, in vignettes, on a white square surrounded by darkness. And the snow that falls is, like the unseen forces that affect all our lives, something from which the work’s characters cannot be sheltered. Pontus Lidberg Dance; 8 p.m. Sat., April 18, Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown; $19-55. 412-456-6666 or trustarts.org

This article first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on April 15, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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