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Review: Dance Heginbotham and Robert Walser, Nervous Together

Except for Ms. Okamura, these are not trained dancers. But in between repeating the protesting-too-much passage about nervousness, she and Ms. Kalman and the actors all dance. They move simply, with amateur charm — just with their hands or, lying on their backs, just with their feet. They pretend to skate and ski. Above all, they dance together: hand in hand, arms around waists, waltzing or turning one another, finger to scalp. None are young, but they do not face aging alone.

If you know something about Walser’s life — he spent his final 25 years in a mental institution and died during a walk in the snow — then some of the action, especially the shivering and Ms. Bernofsky’s napkin folding, takes on a different tinge. But the show may satisfy more, the less you know of Walser.

“Herz Schmerz,” expressing a sensibility that Mr. Heginbotham and Ms. Kalman share (it’s their second collaboration), reproduces much of Walser’s gentleness, sweetness and humility — and the modern-sounding side of his humor. But, focusing almost exclusively on a single short text, it doesn’t quite capture his special balance of lightness and gravity, the evanescent way he makes significance and insignificance flicker. Its range of suggestion is narrower, without the terror and the imaginative flights.

Like much of Walser’s work, “Herz Schmerz” is also brief, under an hour. It ends beautifully, with the lucid Ms. Okamura dancing an Isadora Duncanesque, Morris-like solo. Yet, by the time she’s finished, the show still feels like it hasn’t truly started. That’s not very disappointing, only a little bit.

Dance Heginbotham

Through Saturday at Baryshnikov Arts Center, Manhattan; bacnyc.org.

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