HOPPER by Internationaal Danstheater and Doelen Ensemble at de Doelen, Rotterdam

There was something quintessentially American about Edward Hopper. He captured the essence of the country in the first half of the last century like nobody else. His paintings of urban and rural everyday life and people taught us in Europe as much about our cousins across the pond as the Hollywood movies of the day, more even, as they were static and contemplative. The scenes, tableaux if you like, were silent moments captured in time – a woman sitting on a bed staring out the window, a man silently reading a newspaper, lone women in cafes or on trains. A desolate house, like the one in Psycho, perched high on a hill, a deserted wayside petrol station. These images of isolation and solitude are universal, yet all are unmistakably American.

It is this idea of stillness and what happens afterwards that the Amsterdam based Internationaal Danstheater explore in their piece Hopper which they have created in collaboration with the Doelen Ensemble of Rotterdam.

With such strong imagery and a back catalogue of so many suitable American tunes Edward Hopper is, I would have thought, the ideal subject for a full length, more literal ballet. But the creators of Hopper have opted for an inspired series of short abstract sketches danced to fifteen short snippets of, mainly American, twentieth century music. There is Philip Glass, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber and several pieces by Meriç Artaç. And, of course, there is Max Richter, de rigueur for any contemporary dance company.

The three dancers, Jeroen Van Acker, Lorenzo Capodieci and Francesca Peniguel worked well together as the mood changed with each short piece. The live music was performed throughout by Maarten van Veen on piano and was augmented on three or four occasions by Doelen Ensemble members Ilse Eijsink on clarinet and Jellantsje de Vries on violin.

The vast stage of the de Doelen concert hall is not the most sympathetic for this type of performance but the simple, yet versatile, décor and lighting by Pelle Herfst worked well. It consisted of fifteen strips of fabric which rose the entire height of the stage like a giant vertical Venetian blind. But the strips were in three different sections which could be moved around at stage level to create dramatic diagonals. The strips were an essential element of the performance with the dancers either pushing between or weaving in and out of them.

Neel Verdoorn’s thoughtful choreography captured the mood but, for me, really came alive in the final piece danced to a fragment of Copland’s Piano Sonata. In parts this had echoes of one of America’s greatest dance creators, Jerome Robbins. It was then that all three dancers really excelled.    Michael Hasted    29th May 2018