Anniversary waltz

Caitlin Corbett Dance Company at 25
By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  December 15, 2009

First it walked, then the patterns got more complicated, and finally it thinned out again.

Caitlin Corbett Dance Company, which was celebrating its 25th anniversary at the Tsai Center last weekend, achieved another of its people-dance successes, a two-part series of one-minute duets featuring 36 big, small, awkward, suave, surprising, funny, and raring-to-go dancers and non-dancers of all ages. Corbett sent out a call for participants, who were to bring their own minute of music. She would do the rest. Together they created a miniature spectacle.

You wouldn't think there'd be much information the audience could extract from a one-minute dance, but Corbett's choreography and the eccentric musical selections (Bach, Brubeck, cha-cha-cha, you name it), combined with the talents of the performers themselves, yielded portraits that were entertaining, touching, and not without rigor. Moms and their kids complemented each other's skills, occasionally with a glint of rivalry. There were cool teenagers and enthusiastic seniors. One middle-aged couple had their disagreements; another lay down on their backs, as if to begin their daily calisthenics. One performer looked confident while her partner looked anxious. You could sometimes tell when a duo had a real-life relationship, but sometimes not.

I was so caught up in the different ways of solving a seemingly simple game plan, it took me a long time to realize that these diverse individuals were sharing a certain amount of movement material. In addition to incorporating the performers' particular skills, Corbett had created little motifs that recurred and held the assortment together. You'd notice a shaking-out wrist gesture when it coincided with some musical fillip, and then you'd see the same move a couple of sets down the line. There was a two-legged bouncing, fishtailing step that looked especially witty when two men did it side by side. A touching of your partner's shoulder could be a tap or a shove or a cue to change direction. In the final duet, Ted Clausen and Jay Rogers made contact fondly; then, after a love poem by Clausen, they waltzed away in silence.

In addition to Duets, Corbett premiered Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva, a dance for six women that she'd made during a residency at the Finnish Theater Academy in Helsinki. Wearing black summer dresses, all different, Leah Bergmann, Jimena Bermejo-Black, Maggie Husak, Kaela Lee, Meghan McLyman, and Nicole Pierce almost walked through what could have been the dance's basic movement material. They did low-key gestures, traveling moves, bends, and soft drops to the floor while on tape we heard the ambient sound of what could have been a department store, with an elevator operator announcing the floors in Finnish.

Maggie Husak began a more agitated, expansive dance in counterpoint to the others, who were revolving slowly in a contained line. One by one, the other women began to do Husak's movement, gradually shifting the mood from leisurely to pressured. After this transition, the dance went into high gear, to the irregular rhythms and steady pulsing of Steve Reich's Six Marimbas. The movement and the interplay of groupings and patterns all got more complicated. Then the music thinned out and stopped. The women were standing in another line-up, and as Leah Bergmann backed away from them, we heard a baby crowing.

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Related: 2009: The year in dance, From Mozart to milonga, 2010 preview, More more >
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