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Tere O'Connor Dance
Dance Theatre Workshop, NYC
November 10-14, 2009
Reviewed by Karen Hildebrand

 

In the world of Tere O’Connor’s Wrought Iron Fog, nothing has “meaning.” From the moment the lights come up on the five dancers, the best viewing approach is to let go of any need for narrative or theme, sit back, and enjoy watching an hour of delicious movement. Never fear, it all makes sense.

 

And what a delight it is to let O’Connor and his collaborators, like Alice, lead you through Wonderland. For instance: A trio of two women and one man, facing downstage, step sideways across the stage from one side to the other then back repeatedly. Their feet slap the floor in syncopated rhythm like a heartbeat: thump-thump, thump-thump. In another sequence, the two men take turns twirling with their arms raised, hands clasped, as if spinning from the end of a tightly wound rope.

 

The ensemble of three women and two men are an odd-lot of body size, bookended by lanky Matthew Rogers and full-bodied Hilary Clark (who received a 2008 Bessie for her work as a performer with O’Connor). They all exude presence and maturity—trained dancers performing movement where virtuosity is not the point. When dancing in unison, the ensemble is crisp and tight. Individuals blend in and out of duos and trios. Entrances and exits are like a shoe dangling from a foot that never clunks to the floor.

 

One group section has the dancers each curling their limbs and torsos like flowering vines. The next is full of angles and diagonal lines. O’Connor’s use of humor is subtle, eliciting chuckles as two women trill their fingers on a man’s stomach, or when two men rise on demi-pointe, hands on hips, and strut like peacocks.

 

The musical score is as inventive as O’Connor’s vocabulary. A soundscape by composer James Baker—with text from the Samuel Beckett novel How It Is—alternates everyday noises (traffic, bells) with words and music.

 

Near the end, all five dancers stand still, panting from the exertion. Erin Gerken turns to look upstage at Rogers, then charges, slamming into him. They fall to the ground and wrestle like animals—or maybe they’re lovers—then exit the stage. The other dancers watch unconcerned.

 

It’s a world of constant change as O’Connor moves from one vignette to the next without apparent relation. It’s like riding the bus in a big city, where at each stop you see a different and novel neighborhood. At the end of the work, the dancers dripping wet, you only wish the ride would continue.

 

Trey McIntyre Project
Institute of Contemporary Art
Boston, MA
November 20–22, 2009
Reviewed by Theodore Bale

 

While certain factions in the ballet world continue to wait for the next Balanchine, choreographer Trey McIntyre makes dances that respect and yet subvert popular notions about classical technique. The company’s Boston debut (presented by World Music/CRASHarts) proved that its artistic director is, quite simply, something very new, even if the program offered a bland vestige of his earlier works.

 

That vestige was Like a Samba (1997), an effective curtain-raiser with its striking silhouettes, sudden unison pairings, and classic Brazilian melodies sung by Astrud Gilberto. The title likely comes from the lyrics of “The Girl from Ipanema”: “When she walks, she’s like a samba, that swings so cool, and sways so gentle.” But this reference translates into a long, plain dance that lacks the lilt of its namesake, especially without live music. It is a confident divertissement with traditional partnering, several lords-a-leaping, and lots of pirouettes.

 

It was with the 2009 Shape that McIntyre charted exciting new territory. Lauren Edson, with two enormous red balloons tucked under her T-shirt, delivered a series of nearly impossible backbends, smiling hopelessly while a recording of Goldfrapp’s “Clowns” provided an ironic context. Dylan G-Bowley wore another red balloon on the top of his head, and Annali Rose carried one in each hand. As the music turned into the Polyphonic Spree’s menacingly cute “Light and Day,” McIntyre completed a set of happy yet troubling distortions with these simple props.

 

Distortion reached an even greater extreme in (serious), set to chamber music by Henry Cowell. McIntyre should work towards shortening his dances, since he is obviously building a touring repertory. The introductory solos in (serious) were less remarkable than the thrilling trio at the conclusion. Sometimes we don’t need to see all of the building blocks to get the idea.

 

The Sun Road, with music by Paul Simon, Young Grey Horse, and Nina Simone, is a stunningly poetic rumination juxtaposing well-dressed Western bodies with the terrifying vastness of Glacier National Park. McIntyre has integrated his movement clusters with strikingly refined cinematic images and Native American drumming and chanting, making for one of the most truly American ballets I’ve seen in years.

 

Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer
Baryshnikov Arts Center, NYC
November 17–19, 2009
Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa

 

In one of the dance season’s hottest tickets, Performa 09 and Baryshnikov Arts Center paired two works by Deborah Hay and Yvonne Rainer, revered elders from the seminal Judson era. Hay presented the U.S. premiere of If I Sing to You; Rainer gave Spiraling Down its New York premiere. 

 

In her ensemble piece, Rainer assembles ideas, sound, and imagery from sources as diverse as Merce Cunning­ham, Cyd Charisse, Lily Tomlin, and Serena Williams in nonstop hyperactivity that ranges all over the space. Dancers Pat Catterson, Emily Coates, Patricia Hoffbauer, and Sally Silvers spread a winning blend of maturity and unruliness over a foundation of marathon running and soccer playing, and somehow making it through the dreaded Ravel Boléro, which has an amusing yet useful presence here.

 

The best thing is how lightly Spiraling Down takes itself and, furthermore, how lightly it takes that lightness. It’s the perfect offering from a woman who, long ago, abandoned her austere, once-revolutionary role in dance for the art of film, then got coaxed back to choreography. We see the near-cinematic splicing of a life’s accumulated doubts, twists, and little daily triumphs, each sticky scrap with a vivacity of its own. Spiraling Down could probably be updated forever and keep revealing us to ourselves.

 

Hay’s If I Sing to You, which opened the program, makes much of a shock value that no longer shocks—at least, not in Manhattan. Gender-bending via the application of a little face hair and a man’s suit? Simulated crotch-grabbing, cock-swinging, humping, and masturbation? Barking like a riled-up dog? The psychic wake-up that Hay’s idiosyn­cratic, transformative techniques go for just doesn’t seem to be there. Which is not to say that watching performers as gifted and brazen as Jeanine Durning, Ros Warby, or Michelle Boulé (among the cast of six), as they put their individual marks on Hay’s instructional gridwork, can’t raise an occasional smile. How they, as adaptors of the Hay design, introduce themselves—through their wary gazes and mumbled gibberish, through their spastic flapping and flight into the space—grabs one’s interest right away. At the very least, we want to know: Who are these people?

 

If I Sing to You’s performers are both more and less cartoonish than Rainer’s team. They push the sex stuff to absur­dity, but they never manage to shake a certain heaviness, a covert pushiness that signals that something important is happening here beneath the non sequiturs. A work of art can be important but should not know that it is—or, if it does, should keep silent about the fact. 

 

 

Pictured: Daniel Clifton, Heather Olson and Erin Gerken in Tere O'Connor's  Wrought Iron Fog. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu, Courtesy DTW

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