In the opening scene of Emio Greco/PC's critically acclaimed dance work Rimasto Orfano, a dancer proclaims: "Emio Greco is dead." The pronouncement reported not the literal death of Greco, but rather the demise of preconceptions surrounding dance works the Italian choreographer had created with Dutch theater director Pieter C. Scholten.
That attitude toward the past also applies to the duo's latest creation to tour the U.S. Hell, on stage here April 14, is a marked departure from the company's prior works.
Emio Greco/PC was formed in 1995, shortly after Greco and Scholten began working together. Dissatisfied with the state of dance and theater, the pair experimented with new ways of moving. In particular, they examined how the human body instinctively reacts to everyday stimuli -- or what Greco, in a recent interview via telephone from Amsterdam, referred to as "the language of the flesh."
Ultimately the pair created a unique approach to dance movement that taps into the body's natural impulses, or "inner voice." Dubbed "extreme minimalism," this movement language takes what one might perceive as nervous tics, twitches or shudders and blows them up exponentially in size and intensity. Combining that movement language with theatrical concepts, themes, dance line and rhythm, Greco and Scholten created several award-winning dance theater works and a major buzz in European dance circles.
Hell, perhaps their most theatrical work to date, is 100 minutes of lip-synching, cigarette-smoking and synchronous dance that is as surreal as it is symbolic. As seen on a DVD of the work, the company's eight dancers, costumed in everything from skirts to nightshirts, engage in a 20-minute preamble while the audience was being seated. The preamble features a series of music video/award show-style numbers in which the dancers lip-synched and danced to hits by Sting, Midnight Oil and Taylor Dayne.
Hell truly begins, though, with the appearance of a brightly lit arch, what Greco terms a "circus door." Through it the dancers enter, carrying music stands into a rather stark setting. A shiny black floor and a dead tree are the only elements on a wide-open stage devoid even of curtains.
The look, says Greco, is the company's conception of hell on earth. "Each week during its creation we discussed our opinion of what hell meant to us," he says. "In a way what went into the work is a reflection of how fragile or strong we are as human beings."
Though it's informed by Dante's Inferno and parts of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Hell has no discernable storyline. Greco says it can mean different things to different people.
"The dance creates the story," says Greco. "Some people even think the work is more paradise than hell. I like to see it, as someone once said to me, 'as a fairytale that has not yet been set.'" (Program note: Hell also contains male and female full-frontal nudity.)
The choreography for the main work builds from dance movement suggestive of the preamble -- only slowed down, much more aggressive, and delivered in short bursts -- to fervent group dancing. In another break with earlier works, Greco will play a background role in Hell, appearing in the latter half of the work and in disguise.
The work is set to a minimal, atmospheric soundscape by Greco and Scholten, featuring a diverse mix of eerie sounds, Japanese music and Beethoven. Of the work's main score and the preamble's pop music, Greco comments: "Hell is the only place all these things could exist together."
Taken on the whole, Hell is truly avant-garde and will challenge people's expectations of what dance is. For Greco and Scholten, the work is another step along the road to realizing what dance can be.
Emio Greco/PC performs Hell 8 p.m. Sat., April 14. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-40. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org