A Dutch invasion has arrived in town in the form of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's three-month Distinctively Dutch Festival. The latest in the Trust's series of cultural festivals that included 2004's Quebec festival and 2007's Australian edition, Distinctively Dutch features dance, music, visual art, film and theater reflecting contemporary Dutch culture.
And it begins Sat., Feb. 18, with the U.S. premiere of Dance Works Rotterdam/André Gingras' Anatomica (2011), at the Byham Theater.
"We have a long history of presenting a lot of Dutch work, and the quality of the work is some of the most exciting and innovative work I have seen," says Paul Organisak, Trust vice president for programming and executive director of the Pittsburgh Dance Council.
The festival was six years in the making, and Organisak says its scope will be much broader than the two previous ones, and resonate beyond Downtown proscenium stages and into several area communities.
"I see the festival as a way of augmenting the great work of Pittsburgh-based artists while keeping Pittsburgh on the international map," says Organisak.
Hosting the U.S. premiere of a work by an internationally known dance troupe is something of a coup for the festival and the Dance Council. One of the oldest modern-dance companies in the Netherlands, Dance Works Rotterdam/André Gingras was founded in 1975 as Werkcentrum Dans. Several artistic directors and name changes later, in 2010, Canadian choreographer André Gingras took control as artistic director. He guided the company in a direction completely different from its more traditional modern-dance roots, changing its name to Dance Works Rotterdam/André Gingras, and turning its focus toward performing experimental contemporary dance-theater.
"Our dancers study acrobatics, free running, boxing, capoeira, and there [are] a lot more theater elements in the repertory now," says Gingras, by phone from his studios in Rotterdam.
Anatomica is the first work Gingras is touring with the company. The work actually comprises the two completed parts of a trilogy about how we view the human body. The production opens with the 35-minute "Anatomica #1" (2011), which deals with the courtship ritual and sexual attraction.
"It revolves around the sexual hunt — that search for intimacy and for the right partner," says Gingras. "You will see a lot of very dynamic, aggressive and acrobatic partnering work in it."
Gingras likens the mood of "Anatomica #1" to ballets like The Rite of Spring. It also contains sexually explicit material which may not be suitable for younger audiences.
"There is no nudity in it, and for me that is a big deal," says Gingras. "I use the naked body in a lot of my pieces. I thought it was an interesting challenge to not go the most obvious route for this one."
Incorporated into "Anatomica #1" are elements of the urban sport of "free running." A cousin of parkour, free running requires athletes to jump, flip over and scale building walls, rooftops, rails and other manmade obstacles, all as elegantly as possible.
"In this performance, the dancers will be free-running over bodies," says Gingras.
The work also includes two sexually charged online chat-room scenes between two anonymous women, one of whom is posing as a man.
"Anatomica #1" is set to music by Jürgen De Blonde, which Gingras describes as atmospheric and marked by rhythmically powerful and driving Middle Eastern elements.
While "Anatomica #1" contains "the most beautiful and the most tragic and lonely aspects of human sexuality and what drives us to seek out another," Gingras says, the production's second work, "Anatomica #3," concerns the body at its best: its most virtuosic, beautiful and perfected as an object.
"We drew a lot of inspiration from Andy Warhol and his celebration of celebrity. How he repeats an image in his works many times to give it another meaning or no meaning," says Gingras.
"Anatomica #3" is set to a percussive score by Joseph Hyde that uses instruments made from scrap metal, and which Gingras says has "a very gamelan sound to it." The 35-minute work is joyful and more focused on the dancing, with its nine dancers releasing themselves into movements that have them flying through the air.
The final part of the trilogy, "Anatomica #2," has yet to be created. For the curious, the provocative Gingras says he is toying with the idea of incorporating a ballet dancer and a porn star.
As for what Pittsburgh audiences will see Saturday night, Gingras promises "a lot of kick-ass dancing."