Dance Entertainment

Evaluate: In ‘Köln Live performance,’ Dancing Like Everybody’s Watching

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In 1975, the American jazz pianist Keith Jarrett performed a solo live performance in Cologne, Germany, improvising with out a preset construction. The recording of that efficiency, “The Köln Live performance,” turned one of many best-selling solo jazz albums ever, its one-man-jam-band free exploration of sounds that you just would possibly affiliate with Rachmaninoff, gospel and country-folk proving as fashionable with followers of the Grateful Lifeless as with jazz aficionados.

One can think about the album’s enchantment for Trajal Harrell, an American choreographer who has discovered his biggest success in Europe. Since 2019, Harrell has been the in-house director of Schauspielhaus Zürich, main his personal dance ensemble. The sound of an adoring European viewers, as may be heard on Jarrett’s recording, should be acquainted to him.

However Harrell’s “The Köln Live performance,” which had its New York debut on the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday, doesn’t begin with Jarrett. It begins with Harrell, already onstage because the viewers is submitting in. Over a shirt and slacks, he wears a gown like a smock. He stands and gazes at his viewers as if he had been a modern-day royal, attempting to look informal whereas holding court docket.

And when the music kicks in, it isn’t Jarrett however Joni Mitchell. To “My Outdated Man,” Harrell begins swaying, swooping, swatting the air, his fingers quivering when Mitchell sings of the lonesome blues. It resembles dance karaoke, or somebody dancing alone in a bed room, aside from Harrell’s trademark facial expressions, like Joan Crawford in ache. The vulnerability is armored in affectation.

As extra Mitchell songs play, largely from the album “Blue,” different dancers be a part of Harrell. Sitting on piano benches, they decide up the swaying movement, their arms scooping forwards and backwards as if by means of water to Mitchell’s “River.” This culminates in “Each Sides Now” — the 2000 model, with a gravelly-voiced Mitchell over strings — and one other Harrell trademark: a trend present, with the dancers taking turns doing runway walks in varied outré outfits. They do that very properly.

Lastly, the Jarrett recording begins (we by no means hear the entire thing), and everybody comes again in black sleeveless clothes for a succession of solos. These even have an alone-in-the-bedroom really feel, as if a sublime girl, a little bit tipsy and self-pitying, had put the Jarrett on for some sashaying with stumbles. It’s a dance-like-nobody’s-watching fashion, besides that these performers are intensely conscious of being watched.

A number of the hassle right here is structural. Made in 2021, Harrell’s dance is clearly a pandemic product, with its fastidiously spaced benches and solo after solo. The solos have a little bit variation to tell apart them: Titilayo Adebayo swings her lengthy braids like helicopter blades; the statuesque Thibault Lac, a longtime Harrell collaborator, responds to Jarrett’s fast runs with jerky instability. However they’re all too near Harrell copies, and the repetition is deadening.

The deeper drawback, although, is the close to complete lack of spontaneity. A lot of the enjoyment within the Jarrett recording arises from not realizing the place he’s going subsequent and being shocked at how he will get there. In Harrell’s “Köln Live performance,” there is no such thing as a shock.

The place Jarrett typically sits in a groove, his left hand repeating a easy determine as his proper hand roams freely, the mixture constructing momentum, Harrell simply appears caught in his routine. He’s good at conceptual pairings — his breakout items mixed vogueing with Sixties postmodern dance — and his coupling of Mitchell and Jarrett helps us hear an affinity between them, a Nineteen Seventies sound. However Harrell’s “Köln Live performance” isn’t actually about these artists or the music of its title. It’s about his identification with each. Principally, it’s about himself.

Trajal Harrell

By means of Saturday on the Brooklyn Academy of Music;