Nothing in this lengthy work refers to whales, the ocean, or even the fishing industry.
Gallim Dance. Presented by World Music Crash/Arts at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Boston, MA, February 10.
By Mary Paula Hunter
Gallim Dance’s production of WHALE, an evening length dance work choreographed by its director, Andrea Miller, puzzles on a number of levels. First, there is the title, which we are told her child suggested. Will this be a leviathan undertaking? Nothing in this lengthy work refers to whales, the ocean, or even the fishing industry. Dancers repeatedly shout “Romeo,” which suggested that unrequited love might be a theme, but it was never developed. Dancers spend a lot of their time running in circles, so the point of the entire performance is murky, to say the least. Oddly (and ironically) what seems to unify WHALE is its eschewal of certain choreographic techniques. It’s as if Miller built the work around what she won’t do.
Compositional coherence is one aversion. Instead of developed phrases, Miller shakes out grains of movement. She is not the first to explore this approach, but choreographers such as Merce Cunningham mastered a collage technique that made odd sense of the disparate. In his hands, the inorganic became organic. Miller’s movements are randomly collaged together, to the point that it becomes impossible to figure out what relationships were being hinted at through the freneticism — all the running, jumping, and shaking. The traditional compositional technique of theme and variation may be old school, but a laundry list is a poor substitute, particularly when it turns into the movement equivalent of babble. (Though in the right hands babble can be compelling.)
Second is a distaste for extended line, movement that is sustained rather than punched, retracted, or riddled with doubt. Dancers constantly stop in the midst of completing a movement, hobbling out of a turn that they no doubt could have executed with ease. An evening of faux amateurishness quickly becomes tedious. Interruptions to the jerky-jerkiness came along: there was a beautiful collapse of a dominoes line into a cairn, which then reassembled itself into the original line and then, via individual dancers peeling off, there came the creation of another pile.
Miller is not alone in today’s modern dance world in eschewing short, focused work. Ironically, she purports to being a disciple of the late, great Doris Humphrey, but Miller seems to have overlooked that artist’s dictum that every dance is too long. The kicker is that her attempts to extend the work often depended on the accomplishments of others. Miller’s choices were derivative of Pina Bausch, Kyle Abraham, and GAGA-inspired choreographers. Nudity, strobe lights, and an uninventive percussive score could not make up for the fact that this WHALE was bloated.
Mary Paula Hunter lives in Providence, RI. She’s the 2014 Pell Award Winner for service to the Arts in RI. She is a choreographer and a writer who creates and performs her own text-based movement pieces.