Dance Review: DanceUP’s Compound Fractions

Local chauvinism aside, the evening was a diverse one, at least in terms of dance genres.

The Wonder Twins. Photo: Sophie Brown.

The Wonder Twins, among the performers in “DanceUP.” Photo: Sophie Brown.

DanceUP, presented by CRASHarts at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, MA, on September 22 & 23.

By Marcia B. Siegel

Squeezing six choreographers into one sampler evening of dance leaves little room to absorb the ideas of any one. But Boston dance companies don’t get much of a shot at the ICA’s dance base (Anna Myer will show a work in November under CRASHarts auspices) and the audience for DanceUP Friday night supported all six like they were a home team.

Local chauvinism aside, the evening was a diverse one, at least in terms of dance genres. All six groups also shared a certain reluctance to focus on any one individual or style. Two generations down the line from the counterculture, we rarely see dance companies functioning under the name of a single artist, and the company titles implying that creativity is a collective action have gotten more and more extravagant. So have the elaborate program notes that are more like publicity blurbs or paragraphs from a grant application. Without clearly describing what they do, most of these statements are so broadly ambitious that they could be interchangeable. James Morrow’s trademark line, for instance, “a fusion of modern, contemporary, and urban dance styles,” could be applied to all six groups.

Subject:Matter’s Expensive Nail Polish Dries Fast was directed and/or choreographed by Ian Berg. Mostly a tap piece, its stop-and-go tempi and unpredictable switches of style come from contemporary collage practices. Berg and his female cohorts, April Nieves and Benae Beamon, step on and off a square of flooring hard enough to withstand and amplify the rapping of their shoes. We hear a musical mélange of pop music bits from cowboy thrums to jazz, Hawaiian, funk, folk, and scat. None of the bits seem to last much longer than a few seconds, and the dancers reflect every note.

As the selections change, the dancers freeze in place, sometimes keeping up an energetic rhythm with one foot. Though the entire dance doesn’t last much more than ten minutes, Berg and the women manage to suggest relationships among themselves. Berg teams up with Beamon, then Nieves emerges from between them to blast a couple of solos. When they might have run out of musics, they slow down to an easy soft-shoe tempo as Ella Fitzgerald sings about the Sunny Side of the Street.

For Doppelgänger Dance Collective, aka the duo Danielle Davidson and Shura Baryshnikov, Oracles 1 & 2 was choreographed by Paul Singh to Caroline Shaw’s string ensemble “Entr’Acte.” Short, quick and clear Davidson and tall, solid and vertical Baryshnikov  dance to the irregular rhythms of the neo-expressionistic score. Though they begin side by side in unison, they have separate solos, the movement becomes a changed version of itself. Finally they’re no longer unidentical twins but antagonists. A longish, poetic spoken text by Rebecca Gibel was heard at the beginning, but I got no sense of it because I was involved in the dancing.

Another duo, the Wonder Twins, Billy and Bobby McLain, could have been riffing off the previous two numbers in A World of Pure Imagination, only with maximum glitz. The Twins erupted through the audience to flashing pink spotlights. Wearing red sequined capes, big shades, red gloves, big Afro hair, they incited cheers and clapping from the audience. Once on stage they shed their capes to reveal silver dinner jackets, and carried on a comic side-by-side monologue over the loud music , with comic gestures and hip hop jitters. They became robots. They approached each other from opposite ends of a strip of golden rectangles, a yellow brick road.

Like Expensive Nail Polish, the Twins used a collage of diverse musical sources and pop references. They too exited to Ella’s music (“That Old Black Magic”). Like the Doppelgängers, they danced side by side in unison and imitated hints of drama in the music. Was it coincidence or parody?

After an intermission, Kat Nasti Dance performed Nasti’s Maman, to music by Max Richter and Philp Glass. The three women, Nasti and Janelle Abbott-Staley and Tara Lynch, danced with a gestural modern-dance vocabulary. Given the number’s title, I thought it must be about mothers and babies, but the trio’s references to gathering up and cradling things, to embraces and partings, seemed less interesting to me than how the dance was organized. At first the identically dressed women seemed to be dancing in unison to Glass’s regular beat. But unpredictably, one dancer would fall a tiny bit behind the others. Was this a subtle venture into canon, I wondered. Later on in the dance, the women separated into a running, sliding-to-the floor counterpoint, a real canon. Glass’s violin slowed down and the women faced upstage. They seemed to be scooping up something in their arms and walked off.

James Morrow performing in "Dance UP." Photo: courtesy of CRASHarts.

James Morrow performing in “DanceUP.” Photo: courtesy of CRASHarts.

I didn’t see how this matched up with the program’s grandiose assertion that “. . .  Nasti’s work explores the chaotic pace, the numbing stillness, the devastating losses, the thrilling wins, and all of the in-betweens that create the emotion of each day. . . .” But  the dance’s composition kept my interest.

I met the soul walking along the path, by james morrow/THE MOVEMENT, wasn’t as pretentious as its title or the notation attached to a performance of it on Vimeo. In fact, despite its more or less contemporary costume (an artfully torn jacket and jeans with a T-shirt) and its pop song accompaniment, the dance seemed to hark back to early modern dance solos where the performer is acting out some inner dialogue with an unseen adversary. Morrow used an ambiguous gesture language that could have signified a religious conversion and a return of doubt. Or it could have signified something else entirely. Morrow, a sturdy, balding man, didn’t look like a sleek, toned contemporary dancer, but he could do lightning fast pivots, heel spins, and a long-held shoulder stand with his legs slowly twisting in the air. Mostly he carried on a riveting if mysterious monologue.

Alexander Davis reports a stunningly diverse list of his accomplishments, including knitting a wedding dress. Miscellany is probably as good a way as any to think about his You Own Everything (Everything is Yours). Davis and most of his six dancers belong to Boston’s Urbanity Dance and they have as sprawling a background as their leader. The work put together well-known tropes from the last several decades of experimental dance: belligerent confrontations with the audience, voguing, bits of costume pulled on and off over the underwear, and high-contact duets. There was probably some dancing too, among all that signifying activity. At the end, they cleaned up the space by taking away their discarded costumes.

Internationally known writer, lecturer, and teacher Marcia B. Siegel covered dance for 16 years at The Boston Phoenix. She is a contributing editor for The Hudson Review. The fourth collection of Siegel’s reviews and essays, Mirrors and Scrims—The Life and Afterlife of Ballet, won the 2010 Selma Jeanne Cohen prize from the American Society for Aesthetics. Her other books include studies of Twyla Tharp, Doris Humphrey, and American choreography. From 1983 to 1996, Siegel was a member of the resident faculty of the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University.

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