Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Emerging Choreographers Present Promising New Dance

This past Saturday evening, audience members crowded inside Diavolo Dance Theatre’s steamy performance space, a cavernous warehouse-turned-blackbox-turned-oven, to view new and revisited dance works by Alyson Boell and Deborah Rosen. Produced by Boell as her first solo venture outside of The GreatFruit Collective, the show hung together well – composed of complementary and thematically consistent works and punctuated thoughtfully with a palette-cleansing soundtrack between pieces. The performance was long, and started late, but careful consideration of these elements (and some delectable refreshments) helped keep our attention off our sweaty backs and brows and on the dancing.

Rosen’s Giunone – Italian for “Juno”– opened the show, and Giunone herself begins with ethereal vocals grounded in a strong physical presence and finely textured breathing. Laine Proctor’s steady calm in this role communicates Juno’s subtle power as the goddess of love and marriage and protectress of women. Inside the safe assurance of her strong and constant influence, a chorus of women lilt, twirl, and commune with one another. Their dance could lie hidden inside Botticelli’s Primavera, just barely obscured by new spring growth and echoing the gentle, circular embrace of The Three Graces. However, the light, careful, gentile quality and unison that prevail throughout the work need more contrast to remain clear over time; moments when individual women emerge as unique voices with hard edges or labored efforts compel with their complexity.

In Rosen’s premier, S.O.S. / Sleeping on Snow, Proctor’s role shifts somewhat to that of bard narrating in a dreamscape populated by a ragtag band of night travelers, evocative paintings on rice paper by Jessamyn Lynn Pattison, and glowing red paper globes. S.O.S. captures something of the mystery, ephemerality and changeability of dreams as dancers meet, hoist one another up overhead, roll down another’s body, fall into unison, and part again. As in Giunone, constant dynamics and pervasive unison grow dull over time, but dancers come alive and commit to movement fully and memorably in solo – particularly toward the end when the dream takes a darker turn. There are some lovely moments of interaction between bard and dreamers, as when Proctor leads a blindfolded sleeper through the space, and in future iterations I hope Rosen delves further into the possibilities of physical and aural relationship between vocalist and dancers.

Based on Alyson Boell’s title – Say the Body Is Like This Lamp – I expected matter-of-fact exploration of our physicality, pedestrian carriage, and task-like energy. But a publicity statement that identifies Carl Jung’s psychoanalytical theories as inspiration for this dance offers explanation for the dark struggle danced to grating strings that followed intermission. Although a bit blindsided by the gravity of this piece, I generally admire work that deals with big, serious subjects. Few choreographers dare to handle weighty issues with the earnestness and honesty they require and without the protective distance of irony.

While on the subject of my own dance preferences, I also hold that such human struggle is best communicated through actual struggle against physical limits. In Lamp, several intensely physical duets and solos work powerfully to convey the exertion of confronting our inner shadows; early on, unpredictable momentums and free-flying limbs propel Wen-Chu Yang and Christopher Anderson through one such duet. Later, a concentrated section of unison effectively toes the line between physical support and abuse, as dancers catch and hurl their partners by the head. Elsewhere in the piece, however, the movement is often too careful or harmonious or performed with too much ease to communicate this kind of psychological turmoil. With editing and development, the potent elements and wonderful oddities of Boell’s piece could together compose something powerfully jarring and strangely compelling. The numerous balls of yarn, for example, often placed and draped inexplicably, intrigue when dancers light candles and wind the stuff around each other’s limbs, trunk, hands with disturbing and perhaps deranged indifference.

Altogether, the night gives promise of much to come from these two choreographers. I’ll look forward to it.

1 comment:

  1. Anna,

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece of writing. I enjoy your strategy of describing movement, combining both direct description and analogy, that results in especially vivid depictions with an economy of language. For example, in Giunone, you describe how "a chorus of women lilt, twirl, and commune with one another." This is excellent description, but your reference to The Three Graces fills in contextual gaps. Even if there were significant differences between Giuonone and The Three Graces, I suspect that much more is gained by referring to the painting than by omitting the reference.

    Another part that caught my eye is when you said that "human struggle is best communicated through actual struggle against physical limits." Can you expand on this? Suppose a choreographer feels that she wants to communicate struggle through small and subtle movements. This seems like it could be a valid choreographic choice. Need it be done in such a way as to reach physical limits? Surely you're not saying that all struggle must be communicated through powerful movements/resistances at the limit of the dancers' capabilities?

    Thank you for this excellent description and review. You have a way of writing that makes one sad to have missed the performance!