Susanne Linke, a German dancer (who, like Pina Bausch, studied at the Folkwang School), gave a solo performance at the Boston Shakespeare Theater recently that was rich and fascinating because of its contradictions. In ``Swans Weigh,'' she managed to look heavy and light, gawky and delicate, at the same time. In a ballerina's tulle skirt, a bridal veil, a swallowtail coat, and bare feet, she teetered onstage, head peering forward on a powerful neck like a curious swan's. Her shoulders hulked and her head dragged her downward, but her feet managed to skitter lightly and dryly, taking her on a fluttering tour of the edges of the stage.
This teetering act, though ridiculous to the strains of Tchaikovsky's ``Path'etique,'' was as virtuoso a display of footwork as that of the more classical Swan Queen. Her feet are strong and pliant. They stayed in such an unwavering half-toe that they resembled suction cups clinging to the floor. And she could whisk forward suddenly and just as suddenly stop, quite a challenge for someone leaning so far forward.
The humor was tinged with sadness. Here was a creature that didn't know whether to be a bride or groom, but wanted to be light on its feet, while hulking self-consciously. As she cantered around the stage, fidgeting her jacket open and finally spreading it like wings in a relatively bold sally upstage with an arabesque, then went back to skulking, you felt there was a battle going on between the character and her fears.
And as she slipped almost furtively into the wings (not the first time in the dance that she had faded away), it seemed she had taken a run at something significant, then thought better of it. A compelling portrait of the artist as her own worst enemy.
That latter role was given to an old-fashioned bathtub in ``Bathtubbing.'' She approached it aggressively at first, running around it with a cloth pressed to its rim, her face pushed forward like a Thurber amazon, speeding up around the corners.
But it soon developed that the relationship was more than just a mad housewife and her scouring object. As she braced herself on one foot with her back wedged against it or circled it warily, keeping a hand on it, or fussily changed its position, it seemed she was depending on it to give her definition. It was her opponent, but it was also her furniture, and then her tumbling horse. She gripped the end and arched her torso into it and back out. She hinged herself in one side and out the other. When, as a kind of finale, she leaped into it and made it tip over sideways, nicely framing her recumbent figure, it seemed briefly that she had won, but then she fell out of it onto the floor.
But her humor, and again, lightness, made the exchange something more than an essay on the tragedy of housework. Perhaps because she studied with German modern dance pioneer Mary Wigman, who inspired the Japanese Butoh dancers, she resembles them in her ability to lock herself in cramped poses and tense, precarious balances. But she does little flutters that are clearly all her own and give a sense, if not of liberation, then of the restlessness that sometimes precedes breaking out of a trap. Clamped to the side of the bathtub, supported by three toes of one foot, she suddenly crosses her legs and swings the other foot as if she were relaxing in a lawn chair. When she's about to throw herself in head first, she hears a bit of Erik Satie's ``Gymnop'edies'' and looks over her shoulder as if trying to figure out where it came from.
Though this is a portrait of a character who has obsessively thrown herself into her work, the fluttering and distraction hold out hope. It's not that she's overcoming her obsession. When she falls out of the bathtub she looks exhausted, but she has also exhausted its possibilities for holding her enthralled.
Susanne Linke's dancing looks solid on those floor-hugging feet of hers. But then a little waft of music comes along, or a contrary idea, and there's no holding her down. Her dances all seem to thrash out the problem of what to do with oneself. She asked the question with humor and pathos.
Since her solo performance is so thickly populated with ideas, it will be interesting to see her work danced by a group. She is now making a dance for the Jos'e Limon company, which will be in their repertory season at the Joyce Theater in New York, Feb. 25-Mar. 9. This is a good match; Jos'e Limon had a similar concern for humanity's problems, which he expressed dramatically. A solo for Linke is planned in Limon's ``Dances for Isadora.''