“Inside It’s Raining,” “Falling,” “Dialogue of a Portrait,” “Middlegame”
Company/E and Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre
American Dance Platform- Program A
The Joyce Theater
New York, NY
January 3, 2017
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman
Much contemporary dance skips narrative on purpose, freeing the work (as Judson artists and other contemporary giants did) from “meaning,” story, and often from a direct relationship to music. The contemporary works in the opening program of the Joyce Theater’s American Dance Platform, though, went the opposite way, engaging much interpretation of character and story to puzzle over. Several of the works mixed humor with seriousness, but the jumbled stories embedded in the dance were sometimes more distracting than illuminating.
Alexandra Berger (with crown) and Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre company in "Middlegame." Photo © Ian Douglas.
Company/E’s first two pieces, Rachel Erdos’s “Inside It’s Raining,” and Paul Gordon Emerson’s “Falling” each had that quality of not-quite-narrative, and each kept the audience trying to figure out characters and plotlines. “Inside It’s Raining” was danced by Robert J. Priore, Alicia Canterna and Abby Leithart in what might have been a twisted family story, or a miserable ménage a trios. Both women wore blonde ponytails, and Canterna, the taller of the two, might have been the mother or just the rival of the smaller Leithart.
The trio was in conflict from the start, as Canterna raced toward Priore, launching herself at his body, only to be rejected. He was more interested in Leithart, who tried to break free when he approached, but was captured in his aggressive embrace. Priore moved powerfully, often crouching low on strong thighs; his lifts were insistent, as Leithart struggled with her knees drawn up high, and arms that flailed. The dynamic shifted as Leithart seemed to taunt the others with her attraction; by then, her partners’ mouths moved along her neck and arms, hissing or nibbling at her. This didn’t look like a story that was headed for a happy ending.
In “Falling,” Amikaeyla Gaston and Matt Jones performed a tight duet in a space about five feet wide, in front of the black curtain of the proscenium stage. Occasionally one slipped through a break in the curtain, leaving the partner alone, but was drawn back through another curtain break to again tumble into embrace, pulling and pushing against each other like levers to launch and shift movement. Sometimes rolling on the floor, then bounding up into lifts that seemed to have motors, Gaston was propelled onto Jones, who caught her and wound her not just with his arms, but with shoulders, thighs, and neck as well. Their story was also a relationship struggle, and – not surprisingly – after the wrangling, they left much as they arrived but with switched places: walking side by side, one partner walking forward with confidence, the other walking backward, pulled along as a dependent.
“Dialogue of a Portrait,” Company/E’s last piece, was charming, and odd. The dancers were costumed in skimpy leotards with geometric patterns, the women with rigid buns on top of their heads; they looked like an alien tribe, a jittery crowd of Mork’s countrymen. A large cone of light framed the opening scenes. It appeared, then blacked out several times, first producing a single still dancer, then two who joined her, then a small troop of tightly packed performers who jiggled together in body hiccups and shivers. The electronic music suited the movement.
A dancer emerged from the crowd to explore the darkness outside the cone of light and was followed by pairs, whose limbs folded and oozed around each other. The seven dancers filled the stage in a parallel sequence, but were drawn in and out of other groupings, using different body parts as their common vocabulary. One dancer seemed to pull his partner toward him with magnetic fingers then pressed them to her face; five others used their hands under their chins to flip their heads into different directions. The partnering included as many leans as lifts; in one image, a woman leaned in a long 45º angle against her partner’s body, then brought her knees up in sharp angles against his sides, a two-headed grasshopper. “Dialogue” was Company/E’s best offering, with their muscular movement and flawless balances.
Týnek’s “Middlegame” was also funny, but had greater depth and inventiveness, and engaged a wide variety of music to shift the tenor, rhythms, and mood of interlocked scenes. Evoking Tanztheater, Tynek created characters of a non-story, rushing around each other, competing, playing games. Early on, chairs were introduced as critical props (reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s classic “Kontakthof,”) places to sit and watch, or compete for space. The performance was filled with shifting sound; in addition to Bach, tango, and popular songs, the stage also buzzed with the dancers’ exploding chatter and muttering. The visual shifts were often between the black and white costumed dancers with their same color and opposite color pairings and groupings.
The cast stomped onto stage, backwards, and moved quickly in and out of couples, and moving the chairs. As a duet twisted, mounted, and lifted around one chair, the group of six dancers in a line of chairs upstage literally upstaged the duet, drawing attention with their idiosyncratic movement twitches, one with wide-splayed legs, another jumping on and off the chair. As the pair moved back to join the line, they were one chair short, and a wriggling, twisting musical chairs competition began.
Alexandra Berger raised herself from the rest (literally, first on a chair,) and crowned herself with a folding red velvet crown. Falling into line, the others fell back and shifted the chairs for her wending procession around the stage. Ned Sturgis, her eventual consort, moved in a melting solo of twists and collapses. Dancers joined, raced around the stage in walking patterns that created an urban grid of commuters. Floor-bound dancing, though, gave way again to the chairs – a chair/square dance, chairs as balances for walkover handstands – the shifting permutations were energizing and challenging.
By the final frantic scene, the black-costumed and white-costumed dancers grabbed their chairs, lined on opposite sides, then gyrated wildly in increasingly large dance moves of arms, legs, bodies. In their final collapse, there was only one left standing – Berger, the self-appointed monarch, smiling widely.
Dušan Týnek Dance Theatre company in "Middlegame." Photo © Ian Douglas.
copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman