SHADOW AND LIGHT Hening's 'Ant Umbra.' [Photo by Thomas Palmer]
For a small non-profit dance company, collaboration with other dance organizations can take many forms, such as sharing dancers, choreographers, or venues. Newport’s Island Moving Co. has gone one step farther by inviting whole companies to their annual Great Friends Dance Festival, which continues at the Great Friends Meeting House through July 27.
The fourth edition of the festival includes performances by the IMC troupe, as well as Houston Metropolitan Dance Company; Anne Zuerner Dance and Lydia Johnson Dance, both New York-based; Aerplaye (led by Heather Ahern), Bolger.Rose (Michael Bolger and Tom Rose), Ali Kenner Brodsky, all from Providence; and Amaranth Contemporary Dance, from Richmond, Virginia. Later this year, IMC will perform with Amaranth in Denver and Richmond and next spring with Houston Met on their home turf.
The best boon for audiences, however, is to see new companies come to Rhode Island. Though the “Great Friends” and the pieces they perform change every night of the festival, Houston Met and Lydia Johnson will present work on July 25-27, and last Friday I saw pieces by both. The three dances that formed the first half of the program were so serious in tone that when the seven dancers from Houston Met came on stage for Tidal Intersections, set to Philip Glass and Ravi Shankar, it was a surprising and upbeat shift in mood.
In full leotards in shades of brown, green, and rust, with a half-skirt billowing behind them, they did indeed conjure the swaying reeds of estuaries. With stomping feet, they evoked tribal dances; with other steps, folk dance and even flamenco. But the most captivating aspect of this piece, by Kate Skarpetowska, was the ebbing and flowing she created from the interweaving of the dancers, the superb solo work by Lisa Wolff, and the joy and celebration that burst from each of these bodies in motion.
The other piece by Houston Met featured Wolff in a duet with Max Jones in an excerpt from Peter Chu’s Hidden In Plain Sight (set to Djeff). Staccato poses and sharp hand gestures indicate turmoil between these two people; the panting sounds in the score are sometimes echoed by the dancers; even the abrupt lifts and twirls of their partnering send out hostile vibes.
The two couples in Lydia Johnson’s In Conversation are not as angry (though a simmering jealousy does briefly emerge). Set to Philip Glass’s “Violin Concerto,” this dance builds to dramatic moments along with the music. Johnson’s movements utilize the long limbs of her four dancers in beautiful extensions and lifts to convey yearning, hoping, questioning, reflecting. This piece is deceptively complex, with the “conversations” at times tender and romantic, then becoming thoughtful and worried or even sad and hurting.
In contrast, a playful improv-turned-dance was presented by former IMC dancer Michael Bolger and Sara Barney, with Tom Rose on a variety of instruments and voice. Bolger and Barney mark off the entire space with blue tape and then two smaller squares from which they challenge each other with various steps and postures.