I’d been anticipating seeing Last Touch First, a reworked/extended version of his 2003 piece, Last Touch. Kylian collaborated with American-born Michael Schumacher to expand the piece. Both choreographers referenced Chekhov works (Uncle Vanya, The Three Sisters, Cherry Orchard) in their notes about the eerie gloominess of the piece. I was a little curious, too, because I knew this work would be a departure from Kylian’s usual presentation and style – which I find to be lyrical, oddly humorous, and sensuous – when I introduce someone to Kylian’s work, I like to use Petite Mort. His canon of works during his tenure at Nederlands Dans Theater is vast.
The dancers consist of former members of NDT III, in the latter stages of their dancing career. The dynamics of this work allow them to showcase their artistic abilities over physical virtuosity. Not that this piece is light-weight movement, but it isn’t full of pirouettes and grand jetes.
The story takes place among a setting of antiquated furniture, draped in muslin. It feels like a once magnificent old home, the grandeur lost – a hint of Grey Gardens. Dimly lit, the three men and three women have the desperation of Survivor contestants. Each dancer is simultaneously hyper-aware and lost in thought.
The movement is pared down to simple gestures for maximum effect. The dancers seem to revel in the mesmerizing spell of such painstakingly deliberate movement. The extending of a hand may take eight counts.
Couples quickly emerge among the six; one exploring sexual give-and-take that ranges from creepily violent to bittersweet. The middle couple seem to be playful peers, the give-and-take much more affable and balanced than the first couple (which has the chemistry of a dirty uncle and his compromised niece). The third couple, an older woman and much younger man are delightfully inappropriate. She is drunk and he plays with her eccentricities. The dancers work so clearly and slowly, innocuous movements become highly sensualized with a simple stroke of the arm.
Each dancer (and couple) has an “I’m losing my mind” episode or two, which shift through a range of happy to sad motifs. There are opportunities for them to turn on each other, turn on themselves, yet they seem bound together in this wretched life.
They end in a family-portrait like arrangement. The tormented characters peer into the audience somewhat haughtily — maybe the joke’s on us or maybe it’s on them. But they had us spell-bound. Those seated around me kept gasping throughout the piece.
As the house lights came up, we (the audience) sat a little dazed. The structure of Kylian and Schumacher’s work allowed us to mentally come into the work, so when the dancers left the stage it felt as if they left us behind. We were left with the abandoned Victorian sitting room and its haunting beauty.
This is the vintage, aged wine of Kylian’s work.