Sasha Waltz and Guests, Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York

Berliner Sasha Waltz’s influences are like her city used to be: divided. On one side is 1930s German expressionism, which also shaped Pina Bausch. On the other is the “just the facts, ma’am” structuralism of such Americans as Trisha Brown and Yvonne Rainer. Waltz, 47, has not tried to reconcile these polarities. She began her career making political dance theatre, then shifted to more architectural concerns, with the body the columns and posts, and Germany’s guilt-laden history in the shadows. For the first time with the nearly two-hour Gezeiten (Tides), for an international cast of 16, she brings the forms together.

Tides is about what happens when the things we take for granted – that the ground will remain firm, the ocean not overflow – no longer hold.

The dance begins serenely, with the dancers embodying the balance and order that will soon disintegrate. In twos and threes, they slink into the room of longtime Waltz set designer Thomas Schenk, the paint peeling and wood floors soft with wear. As the light passes through each time of day and Bach cello suites alternate, the dancers pair up to form asymmetrical mobiles so carefully balanced that no clutching or clinging is necessary. Eventually the whole troupe arrays itself like a slant of dominoes.

When the room goes black, we hear the sound of buckling, breaking and burning. When the lights come on again, the dancers are falling across the space and the doors are shut to keep disaster out.

No such luck. In the disproportionately long second act, Waltz subjects her crew to contamination, fire and earthquake. To reflect how little sense anything makes once givens have been taken away, she switches to antic comedy. With each new misery, the inhabitants become more crazed. They grow rough with each other, then with themselves – swathing their heads in fabric like huge pin cushions, stuffing their trousers with boards or, in one gorgeous, terrifying scene, spinning like dervishes while heavy chairs dangle from their arms.

The chaotic proceedings are eclectic enough that they ought to offer constant diversion. A little kookiness goes a long way, though. Waltz has a feel for fact and nonsense, but metaphor – the bridge between them that delivers meaning – largely eludes her. ()

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