Untold tales

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 26, 2007

There were suggestions of people’s homes: projections of a city where the buildings began to rotate, a toy house that became a trophy the dancers competed for. Flocks of white pigeons against a black sky turned into dots in the shape of a motion-captured human figure. A woman’s emphatic voice read from a travel diary. There were suggestions of children’s games: hopscotch, red light, statues. At one point the composer/musician Albert Mathias stood up in the pit and melodramatically lip-synched a recorded tenor-baritone duet from an Italian opera.

Jeanine Durning started a dance to what might have been a Bollywood song. Without lifting her feet from the floor, she jiggled her legs and her whole body as fast as she could, glancing at the audience and lifting one satin pants leg provocatively. The other dancers joined her as this strange, ecstatic movement grew into a jiggling, jumping, paddling dance. It seemed to bring the piece to a culmination, because the dancers, for once, were doing something they all found enjoyable. But then some other things happened, without clarifying what had gone before.

In some way, Bebe Miller’s dance seemed to be about excess. Less than an hour long, it was crammed with stimulants. The movement looked fragmented, the dancers’ body parts flying off in all directions simultaneously. They looked both very focused and very distracted. The piece was visually diverting, mysterious, dark, annoying, repetitious, shocking, inventive, and I was sure it meant something I didn’t grasp.

Like Miller, Kelley Donovan offered few clues to her It’s All Forgotten Now. A program note told of “exploring transformation, decay, and memory,” but this could be a perfectly reasonable description of any dance that consists of variations on movement themes. Donovan too seemed to be working from a deeper script than what we saw on the surface. Or maybe not.

Eleven women, individually dressed in layers of dark filmy and opaque fabrics, danced in solos and ensemble groupings, playing off an opening solo by Donovan that supplied the movement material for the piece. Donovan is a unique performer. She can keep some part of her body looping around and behind, spiraling over and under and through space, so that the rising and falling momentum never stops. I think it isn’t that other dancers can’t do this, but Donovan’s particular combination of physicality and spatial awareness just isn’t practiced much. It was a pleasure to see it, and to see how the group of women translated the phrases in their own ways.

With an unobtrusive score of electronic hums and tickings (by Stephen Cooper and Punck), there were harmonious duets, counterpoint patterns in groups of four or five, vigorous wrenching-thrashing solos, a gesture interlude by a tightly knit group of five.

Donovan returned for another solo, as if to reinforce the phrase material. After that the others formed bigger patterns. Walking in a slow circle, a group of eight took one step back for every four or five forward, gazing the whole time at another woman who was dancing in the center. I thought of Le sacre du printemps, where the woman in the center is a sacrificial victim, and later, when a similar circle organized itself, of Martha Graham’s Primitive Mysteries, where the group worship the Virgin Mary.

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