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Review: Spinning and Toiling, but Not Finding Coltrane’s Sacred Love


Bilal El Had, foreground, and José Paulo dos Santos, left, in “A Love Supreme.”

Maria Baranova

It probably doesn’t make sense to call a work of art perfect, but for “A Love Supreme,” John Coltrane’s four-part musical masterpiece recorded in 1964, the word sacred feels true and right. It’s an offering, one that seems more invincible and raw with each hearing.

Coltrane, who overcame heroin and alcohol addiction before creating it, wrote in his liner notes about experiencing “a spiritual awakening, which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life.”

What doesn’t strike the same ecstatic sensitivity is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis’s dance “A Love Supreme” set to Coltrane’s recording. Ms. De Keersmaeker designed the structure and composition; Mr. Sanchis was in charge of the movement and improvisational techniques. In their “Love Supreme,” which opened the New York Live Arts fall season on Wednesday, each dancer in the all-male cast is meant to illustrate a musical instrument.

The dance, a reworked version of a 2005 piece, started in silence — a new touch and, at first impression, a smart one. Before the bare stage was splashed with music and bodies, this quiet setting was like a bridge between the chaos of the real world and Coltrane’s spiritual realm. The dancers coiled together in clusters and then wrenched apart and scattered. Thomas Vantuycom was lifted by the others — later, when this imagery returned in the fourth section, or “Psalm,” it seemed to symbolize Coltrane reaching for God.

Before the music started, Mr. Vantuycom was left alone onstage. He paused, staring in our direction, sketched out a loose movement vocabulary, leading his substantial yet silky frame into brief, supple turns with straight, slicing arms and legs. His dips and leans tested momentum, which soon became a pattern — not only with him, but the cast.

For the first notes, they all took the stage: José Paulo dos Santos (his role is inspired by the drums, played by Elvin Jones on the recording), Jason Respilieux (Jimmy Garrison on bass), Bilal El Had (McCoy Tyner on piano) and Mr. Vantuycom (Coltrane on tenor sax). As the piece progressed, there was a predictability to the way the dancers covered space, swooping to the front to perform solos as the other “instruments” receded to the back. Mr. Vantuycom, explosive and frequently overwrought, dashed out repeatedly with an almost comical vigor. And it didn’t advance the cause when he seemed to evoke the fluttering notes of the sax with an undulating arm.

As the other dancers performed solos — embodying the sound of the piano, the bass and the drums — their musical visualizations, however unrestrained, hit overly simplistic notes. Mr. dos Santos possessed the most spirit and connection to the music, but his loops of movement were repetitive; Mr. Respilieux, precise and understated in a group, lost his allure as a soloist. And Mr. El Had, both solid and impulsive, dove into the music more powerfully with his body than with his imagination.

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