"Mana," "Bloom," "Among the Stars," "Roughcut"
Vertigo Dance Company/Drew Jacoby/Jessica Lang Dance/Richard Alston Dance Company
New York, NY
October 30, 2011
By Martha Sherman
Copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Fall for Dance played it safe on Program 2. The Festival offered a familiar-tasting sandwich of two slight pieces nestled in two larger, more dramatic ones. Navigating the expected and predictable interplay between national and international troupes, large and small casts, classical and contemporary movement, this evening of four works pushed the required buttons. What it didn’t do was demand much from the willing, ever-appreciative festival audience.
The evening opened with “Mana,” by Israeli choreographer Noa Wertheim. The powerfully athletic dancers of Vertigo Dance Company told a wending tale in physical and psychological layers. The dancers’ costumes were striking many-layered black dresses; shapes draped and looped over each other with skirts and pantaloons underneath. The fabric – along with the dancers - moved beautifully, especially in high twisting jumps.
A soloist began in a spotlight, slithering in place, his body wafting black fabric waves against a stark white background. As his arms reached up and outward, his body folded in on itself, though his feet didn’t move. His partner sat, downstage left, back toward the audience, then moved to comfort and cradle the opening soloist’s head briefly in the crook of an elbow, before they moved into a parallel duet, exuding energy.
The stage was as layered as the costumes: a simple white house-front stood on the dark stage, with a large cutout rectangle in the center that became a door. The piece slid forward and back to differentiate spatial planes on the stage, creating depth with the dancers behind and in front of the doorway. When the other dancers entered to join the opening duet, they became a community, in parallel form, their arms and torsos curving forward in swirling crests of black. A dancer entered with an enormous black balloon, her arms borne up as if hanging from it. She danced on the tips of bare feet in bold arabesques and turns. The balloon became her partner, and a character itself, pulled on and off stage by different company members, sometimes rising behind the white set. It was a cross between a threatening cloud and the Red Balloon – full of personality, but unquestionably dark.
A solo created by Andrea Miller for dancer Drew Jacoby, and a ballet duet created by Jessica Lang were the center of the evening. Each was well-executed; neither was gripping. Miller’s work “Bloom” (somewhat strangely named for a piece about the transformation of a dancer into wind) sent Jacoby careening around the stage in wide circles, as her light costume swept around her. With hair flying, she danced tight barefoot pirouettes, then strode, leapt, and stomped her feet, first on the open, then in front of the lowered curtain at the stage’s edge. As she ran back and forth, there was a look of confusion on her face. For a dancer as accomplished and disciplined as Jacoby, and a choreographer who has been highly inventive in her work with her Gallim dancers, Miller’s movement choices were surprisingly lightweight.
Lang’s work “Among the Stars,” was a romantic duet based on the story of the Japanese Tanabata festival, in which two, literally star-crossed, lovers are separated by the Milky Way, meeting only once a year. Yuan Yuan Tan entered the stage trailing a long white silken train that transformed into the river of stars that both separated, and then linked Tan with her partner, Clifton Brown. Tan’s beautifully extended limbs guided the fabric in fluid motion; and the partners’ dance lifts were elegant and liquid, especially when the wafting fabric was in play. But Lang didn’t let this straightforward story rise above its silken surface.
Richard Alston’s “Roughcut” was the evening’s strongest work, and a good bookend finish to Vertigo’s energetic opening. The crisp black and white costumes and patterns, and the driving dance to repetitive music (by Steve Reich) evoked the crispness and discipline of Lucinda Childs; Alston’s claim that this work was a “rough” cut was a little disingenuous.
Standing on either side of the proscenium, musicians Roger Heaton (on clarinet) and James Woodrow (on guitar) each played solos that drove the energy and syncopation of different segments of the dance, passing the musical line across the stage and shifting the movement energy as the music changed. The music – and the dance -- rotated among repetitive phrases, syncopation, and jazz.
The musical lead was matched by the dancers’ leaps, lifts, and wide leg sweeps. The solos, including Nathan Goodman’s opening, and central solos by Hannah Kidd and Pierre Tappon, were athletic and sharp-edged. The duets, by each of the four pairs in the cast, turned every body part into a launch pad – shoulders, thighs, knees were all planes from which a partner moved into space. The strong visual finish helped lift an otherwise middling program.
copyright © 2011 by Martha Sherman
Top photo: Vertigo Dance Company in “Mana” by Gadi Dagon
Second photo: Drew Jacoby in “Bloom” by Lois Greenfield
Third photo: Yuan Yuan Tan and Clifton Brown in “Among the Stars” by Sharen Bradford
Bottom photo: Richard Alston Dance Company in “Roughcut” by Chris Nash