Italy's MM Contemporary Dance mixes grace and brutality at the Chutzpah Festival

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      A Chutzpah Festival and Il Centro—Italian Cultural Centre presentation. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Thursday, March 1. Continues until March 3

      Beauty and ugliness meet strikingly in the work of MM Contemporary Dance Company, which is visiting the Chutzpah Festival from Reggio Emilia in northern Italy.

      The honed, classically trained troupe has impeccable technique, but in the double bill here, elongated limbs, arching backs, and arabesques are often used to create strange, unsettling imagery—by turns primal, threatening, insectlike, and awkward. Two women scissor their long legs around each other like flying bo staffs, while, in a different pas de deux, a woman hinges her ankle around a man’s neck to pull him toward her.

      Beyond that, The Rite of Spring and Bolero push this corps to its physical limits. The effect is somehow elegant and raw at the same time.

      The opening Rite is pummelling. Its first images are startling: to Igor Stravinsky’s haunting opening bassoon solo, the lights come on briefly to reveal a body being dragged, face down, across the stage by a chain, as meat hooks sway overhead. Between blackouts, more and more dancers appear around the figure—the women in short, corseted scarlet dresses, the men barechested in red tights.

      The Rite of Spring
      Roberto Ricci

      From here, the intensity doesn’t let up, choreographer Enrico Morelli building a tableau of human conflict and aggression. Struggles of all kinds unfold on-stage, often with one person being bullied by the whole group. Still, it’s a little hard to stomach—in this time and this place—the violence inflicted on women here, as they’re grabbed by the throat, thrown to the floor, though they do definitely push back. Morelli is trying to bare the brutality of our world, a sense heightened by Stravinsky’s bombastic score, culminating in a shocking image of what all our fighting will achieve.

      Bolero is a tighter, moodier work, better contained by the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre stage. Choreographed by MM artistic director Michele Merola, it’s a fluid play on Maurice Ravel’s pulsing, slow-building score—here updated with three seamless new musical bits interwoven by composer Stefano Corrias.

      Stefano Corrias

      The dance takes place in and around a pleated, accordionlike paper wall that appears to move magically around the stage, sometimes engulfing its dancers or opening briefly to reveal an undulating limb. Under chiaroscuro lighting, pas de deux flow into quartets and trios. Merola loves swivelling torsos, rethinking classical movement in similar ways to Morelli, flexing feet to make leg lifts look awkward and human, wrapping bodies around and through one another. The piece is abstract, but it gets at the cycles of love, of connection, parting, and struggle.

      The real joy of watching MM is its dancers, so fiercely committed to the punishing demands of endurance, strength, and technique here—especially in the heady climax of Bolero. MM has evolved out of neoclassical ballet, creating its own unexpected mix of the graceful and the harsh. It’s a rare taste of Italian dance that, like Rome’s Spellbound Contemporary Ballet at last year’s Chutzpah, is well worth a jaunt out to the Rothstein.