Performed on the chapel lawn at Concord Academy a week ago Thursday, Anna Myer’s All at Once utilized a sculptural, gestural movement idiom, but it looked more like a ballet than a modern dance. Karole Armitage’s In this dream that dogs me, which followed the Myer piece in the theater at Summer Stages Dance, was rigorously ballet-based, but it looked as if every move had been newly made up.
IN THIS DREAM THAT DOGS ME: Movement so inventive you couldn't even call it eclectic.
In theory, an outdoor venue always seems like an exciting prospect, and sometimes it repays prior anxieties about the weather, the insects, and the hazards that might be lurking underfoot for the dancers. The rain and the bugs held off on Thursday; the grass was thick and soft. But somehow Myer’s piece came loose in the big green space.
Shown in the top-floor studio at Boston Ballet back in May 2005, All at Once proposed a synthesis of music and movement. From different parts of the room Susan Davenny Wyner conducted 12 New England Ensemble string players. The dancers remade the spatial layout three or four times by shifting the violinists’ stools and music stands into expansive rows and arcs, so unlike the usual bunched-up, audience-oriented musical concertizing. Maybe the architecture of the studio itself created a frame for these choreographed rearrangements. At any rate, the dance looked more focused there, and more energized.
Myer’s nine dancers, after attending to and escorting the musicians to their new stations, moved through the twilight lawn in her variations on movement themes that seemed built on expanding and reorienting a few gesture patterns. When not dancing, they’d stand formally around the edges of whatever musical space they’d configured. Of course there was nowhere for them to exit, but I think their constant witness was part of the plan. Jakov Jakoulov’s post-romantic music, discreetly miked, provided a porous, pleasant background.
Sometimes prompted by a soloist, the dancers worked in small and large units, always neatly designed and of a piece with the staged furniture moving, the choreographed waiting and walking. Leading with one protectively curved arm, they’d travel and turn, stretch out and roll to the ground. A partner would slide an arm around someone’s waist from behind and they’d scoop sidewards together. With a grave handshake, they’d lead sideliners into center space.
In one of two climactic moments there was a false ending, as the music trembled to a dissonant screech and the dancers gathered in a tight group and reached skyward. Then, encircled by standing violinists, they reprised the movement themes and came to a sudden stop with the music.
Whether Davenny Wyner was stationed opposite the ensemble, or on some faraway steps, or in the center of the final circle, the musicians were always intent on their leader. But the dancers often aimed all their patterns at the audience that was watching from one end of the lawn, as if the dance were taking place in a proscenium theater. This divided focus, which I never noticed in the indoor version, drew my attention to the dance’s sparse movement material and the noncommittal way the dancers performed it.