The third word in Provincial Dances Theatre’s name has equal emphasis with the second. This Russian company, headed by Tatiana Baganova, presents pieces that immerse the performers in enthralling music, costumes, sets, lighting and special effects, creating unforgettable images in alien landscapes.
The company’s return to the American Dance Festival brings back two of its most mesmerizing works.
Baganova’s 1999 “Maple Garden” seems a cross between a folk tale and a fevered dream. Through lightning flashes we see a bare tree with a woman, attached to a rope and holding a lantern, perched on a branch. In a shadowy mist, men and women interact formally but with underlying sexual tension. After a man discovers the woman in the tree, she swings out over the stage, sensually teasing him to engage with her. Afterwards, the men and women interact with more lustful movements and soon there’s a vying for dominance, ending with the men tying the women to the tree’s branches by their hair.
There are many more striking moments that shouldn’t be revealed for first-timers, including a surprisingly erotic use of a common vegetable. While there’s dark humor at times, the piece ultimately comments not only on sexual domination but also on that of ideologies.
Those who witnessed the huge success of Baganova’s “Sepia” at the 2010 festival understand its fascination. That performance was with festival students but here it’s with the company’s professional dancers in a somewhat revised staging.
In a desert-like setting, it opens with three nearly nude men performing a ceremonial cleansing under large hanging containers that drain streams of sand upon them. To their left, three women fight their way out of a huge chrysalis, then gather up the pieces into balls like beetles. They are herded around by the men and made to participate in various ritualistic movements. One woman discovers a hanging sand vessel and opens the stream on herself while the men attempt to keep the other women away.
Once again, the theme seems to be sexual and political domination, this time in chilling earnestness. Those who haven’t seen it before should find it gripping; those who have should welcome another chance to be pulled into its unsettling yet strangely beautiful world.
What: Provincial Dances Theatre, presented by the American Dance Festival
Where: Reynolds Industries Theater, Bryan Center, Duke University, 125 Science Drive, Durham
When: 8 p.m. July 15; 7 p.m. July 16
Info: 919-684-4444 or americandancefestival.org