For a half-hour before the start of Tim Rushton’s “Love Songs” Saturday at the Tsai Performance Center, the 12 dancers from Danish Dance Theatre could be seen on stage warming up, stretching arms and legs, showing off their flexibility. They looked good. Unfortunately, when the actual performance started, it turned out to be just more of the same.
Danish Dance Theatre explains the idea behind the 70-minute “Love Songs,” which premiered in 2011, as “the individual’s lifelong journey to find love,” set to “cherished jazz classics from the good old days.” Rushton, who is the company’s artistic director and choreographer, chose nine songs, among them “Come Rain or Come Shine,” “All of Me,” and “My Funny Valentine.” His recorded versions, however, were performed not by artists from the good old days but by contemporary Danish-based singer Caroline Henderson, whose sweet but pallid voice offers more style than substance.
The dancers began by sitting in 12 chairs ranged along the back of the stage — not a new idea. At the end of “Everywhere,” one dancer soloed while the other 11 danced sitting in the chairs — also not new. They danced in twos and threes and groups of men and women, flailing, kicking, sliding, gliding, doing floor exercises, barely relating to each other. Love in the abstract and the generic.
Matters picked up at the end of “The Night Holds No Fear,” when a woman sitting in a chair offered her cheek to the man she’d been dancing with and he declined to kiss it. Another man stole that kiss, whereupon Henderson’s voice burst in, “Björn, Björn, was that a kiss? You can’t just dive in like that. You need advice.” Henderson then related the story of her first kiss, and Björn, seated on stage, back to the audience, watched while a couple of dancers acted it out. It was funnier, and more personal, than anything else in “Love Songs,” and it got better as the dancers started to riff on hugging and kissing while a piano-bass-drums trio riffed on “You and the Night and the Music.”
At the beginning of the second half, the lights dimmed and the dancers, standing by their chairs, changed outfits, the new ones being a little sparklier than the old. Duets followed; the woman in “All of You” made frequent eye contact with her partner and even waggled her fingers at him, but Rushton’s choreography didn’t seem to be listening to the lyrics of either “My Funny Valentine” or “Lilac Wine.”
It ended with Dusty Springfield’s “I’m Gonna Leave You,” but far from parting from one another, the couples didn’t want to leave the stage. For a moment, as, one by one, they did their individual curtain calls, you could have hoped that the party was just about to begin.