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Cullberg: “Horse, the Solos”

A famed European modern dance troupes fails to impress with its avant-garde offering at the Joyce Theater.

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Cullberg dancers Louise Dahl, Agnieszka Sjökvist Dlugoszewska and Freddy Houndekindo in a scene from Deborah Hay’s “Horse, the Solos” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Sharon Chakraborty)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

Though only an hour long, Deborah Hay’s Horse, the Solos (2021), set on the dancers of Cullberg (founded in 1967 as the Cullberg Ballet by the late, eminent Swedish choreographer Birgit Cullberg), was difficult to sit through, a meandering, shapeless work that provided few visual pleasures and even fewer moments of human interaction.

Hay provided a “Choreographer’s Note” to explain how Horse was painstakingly produced during the recent Covid Pandemic shutdown, created on the dancers via instructions communicated by computer screens and a trusted rehearsal director.  Hay stated, “Horse, the Solos” relies on two common attributes of survival, risk and efficiency.”

Her opaque, overly intellectual analysis is a product of her years in the world of avant-garde dance, the Judson Dance Theater and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.  The dry, boring dance on the Joyce Theater stage was a reflection of her experimental past, the influential lessons of which have long been absorbed into the greater dance world.

Cullberg ensemble in a scene from Deborah Hay’s “Horse, the Solos” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Sharon Chakraborty)

Her untheatrical choreography is totally opposite to the works created by Cullberg who was famous for her story ballets like Miss Julie, The Moon Reindeer and The Lady from the Sea, all using the classical ballet vocabulary including point work.

Horse, the Solos places seven members of Cullberg on stage performing individual movement motifs.  The solos appeared to be arbitrary combinations of Cunningham technique, everyday gestures and tai chi. The seven soloists moved about the stage in funereal darkness—dismal lighting created by Minna Tiikkainen—wearing vivid red outfits designed by Behnaz Aram, the sole evidence of warmth on the stage of The Joyce.

The effect was less mesmerizing than soporific.

It was difficult to ascertain the individual talents of these dancers because the demands made upon them were minimal except having to memorize disconnected, unmusical phrases repeated over and over.  They weren’t helped by the semi-electronic score by Graham Reynolds which rumbled ominously for most of the hour, providing no rhythmic support.

Cullberg dancers Katie Jacobson and Eliott Marmouset in a scene from Deborah Hay’s “Horse, the Solos” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Sharon Chakraborty)

This was an odd choice for this troupe to bring to New York, a work that didn’t show off the dancers.  Perhaps the artistic director, Kristine Slettevold was trying to show off the company’s modern dance bona fides?

The program notes contained a short history of the Cullberg company, but—disrespectfully, in my opinion—provided no biography of Birgit Cullberg, herself.

Cullberg: Horse, the Solos (through February 5, 2023)

Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org

Running time: 60 minutes without an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (541 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

2 Comments on Cullberg: “Horse, the Solos”

  1. Thank you for this honest critique. Two comments to it – it’s Minna Tiikkainen, not Minna Tikkainen. Additionally, I spoke with one of the performers after show yesterday and he told me that the movements on stage were improvised.

  2. The change was made to Minna Tiikkainen

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