Beth Soll & Company // Julie Ince Thompson Theatre // Dance Complex, Cambridge, MA // December 11–12, 2010 // Reviewed by Iris Fanger
Beth Soll. Photo by Erin Baiano.
Beth Soll presented a concert of two solos for herself and a group work, Restless Geometry. The weekend marked a brief return to Boston, which she left in 1997 after spending more than 25 years here and helping to shape the city’s contemporary dance scene as a performer, choreographer, and teacher.
As in her past works, Soll’s solos depended on a vocabulary of coded gestures that suggest a narrative but one too personal to fully share. For Disclosure (2010), to music by Stuart Dempster, Pauline Oliveros and Panaiotis) her steady, blue-eyed gaze and intensity of effort were omnipresent, each movement carved out as if etched in stone: one hand brushing across her eyes, a swishing of her taffeta skirt, a drop to the floor to balance her weight on one hip. She was dressed as an eccentric personality, as if Norma Desmond of Sunset Boulevard had become a dancer, moving through contrasting actions of seeing and not seeing, or seeing something too painful to comprehend.
For the premiere, Tribute, a much more accessible piece, Soll made a total change of costume into a blue denim jump suit, adjusting the belt as she came onstage. The work unfolded mostly in silence except for a snatch of music from Act II of Swan Lake. She spoke simple words like “yes,” “no,” “O.K.,” directly to the audience, but switched between English and other languages. She covered the entire space, sometimes turning her back to the audience, but watching us over her shoulder as if to include us in the experience. At one point she raised her arms to greet an imagined audience in the rear, as if she were a ballerina fiinishing the phrase of the Tchaikovsky score that we were hearing.
The surprise of the program was the extent of ballet technique she employed for Restless Geometry (2010), starting with the five positions of the feet and their port de bras. To music by 17th- and 18th-century composers, the dancers appeared in ballet dress, except for Manuel Sandridge, the green-clad Spirit of the Garden, where the three-part work took place. The flowery, light movement turned to nightmare-stuff in the middle segment, complete with violence and erotica, before a final coda when decorum returned to their world. Soll is a consummate professional, always mesmerizing in performance. However, her dancers, although proficient in technique, did not convey any sub-text to differentiate the piece from other works we’ve seen about the changeable qualities of nature.