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Pontus Lidberg: “On the Nature of Rabbits”

A dark ballet that takes on too many themes from Swedish choreographer and dancer Pontus Lidberg.

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Damiano Artale and Pontus Lidberg in Lidberg’s “On the Nature of Rabbits” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Steven Pisano)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

Pontus Lidberg’s On the Nature of Rabbits to music by Stefan Levin at The Joyce Theater is the esteemed choreographer’s valiant attempt to braid several dark strands of his life into a work of art.  The work was commissioned by La Biennale di Venezia and co-produced by Works & Process of the Guggenheim.

Program notes indicated that On the Nature of Rabbits was inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of the AIDS epidemic and “the relationship between childhood mementos and the nuances of desire.”

How the metaphor of rabbits fit into this was puzzling, yet the dreamlike (nightmarish?) rabbit imagery was the strongest visual idea and pervaded the work, from a toy stuffed bunny to grotesque rabbit masks the dancers wore throughout the show.  Perhaps the stuffed bunny was akin to the madeleine which Proust tasted, leading to a river of memories and Á la Recherche du Temps Perdu, the rabbit inducing Lidberg to ponder his childhood?

Rabbits began with Lidberg sitting in the gloom (morose lighting by KJ), his attention on the toy rabbit.  Colleen Thomas, in a long, gray sleeveless dress (black, white and gray being the color palette chosen by costume designer Karen Young), offered him a glass of water, a theme that returned with a bizarre variation at the end.  (The rabbit costume worn sporadically by Damiano Artale, was by Rachel Quarmby-Spadaccini.)

Hussein Smko and Damiano Artale in a scene from Pontus Lidberg’s  “On the Nature of Rabbits” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Steven Pisano)

The work unfolded in a series of disconnected duets, several involving a ladder which was raised by one man and mounted unsuccessfully by another—clearly an evocation of the Berlin Wall and the years of frustration it caused.  The ladder returned over and over again.

Also prominent were blue, helium-filled balloons carried about and raised high—another suggestion of a childlike sense of wonder?

A diaphanous curtain was drawn across the back of the stage becoming a screen upon which Jason Carpenter’s witty and dramatic images were projected:  huge storm clouds, rain and lightning plus silhouettes of dancers moving in synch with live performers.

As the work progressed, Lidberg, occasionally shirtless, danced tense, yet sensual, duets with the other male company members (Artale and Hussein Smko), all lean and lithe, their bodies wrapping around each other until the sensuality morphed into something grotesque.

Pontus Lidberg and Damiano Artale in Lidberg’s “On the Nature of Rabbits” at The Joyce Theater (Photo credit: Steven Pisano)

As Smko lay curled up on the floor small black spheres were inserted into various positions under his clothing giving him the look of a contorted Quasimodo.  Perhaps the bulges under his clothing were meant to be viewed as bubos, as is the bubonic plague, a clear metaphor for the AIDS epidemic.

The final image was disturbing.  Thomas brought out more black spheres, ones that had small holes from which water—I hope it was water!—flowed like urine.  Again she offered Lidberg a glass, this time filled with the water from the little globe.  There was nothing soothing about this.

On the Nature of Rabbits was too episodic, the sections not leading one to the next, making for an awkward construction, despite the artistry of the dancers and the production team.  The depressing work had an intermittent impact, but its structure weakened the message.

Pontus Lidberg: On the Nature of Rabbits (March 6 -10, 2024)

The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit

Running time: 65 minutes without an intermission

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About Joel Benjamin (560 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.

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