Steps . . . and more steps

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  November 17, 2008

Daniel McKusker’s Braid began with a woman on the floor, stretching and angling her limbs. Her 12 companions entered to do variations on her phrase: walking, leaping, lifting each other, with many extensions of arms and legs, to the music of accordionist Guy Klucevsek. McKusker’s dancers move like real people, only more demonstratively. His choreography for Braid used a more articulated body language than some of his earlier pieces, but his dancers maintained a placid, pedestrian tone throughout.

In Von, Jim Viera provided compositional variety in his group designs and phrasing, with a variable relationship to the recordings of the Icelandic post-rock group Sigur Rós. The spacey sound of vocals, hand drumming, guitar, and electronics provided a pulse that the dancers used in different ways, with expansive traveling steps, suspensions, and leaps; arching, reaching bodies; and a curving, circling duet for Jordyn Cormier and Joe Gonzales. The piece had a lyricism and spaciousness that characterize the José Limón/Doris Humphrey technique, and there was even a momentary reference to Humphrey’s iconic 1928 Water Study.

Thang Dao, class of 2001, has been choreographing as a freelance, and recently won the Princess Grace Fellowship for ballet choreography. His piece, Echoes, was balletic without the pointe shoes, and featured lots of running and leaping and lifting. In conventional duets, Dao’s men lifted women into extravagant poses. Elsewhere, the mostly female cast gathered in groups to lift one person after another, including one of the men. For the finale, to a screechy Vivaldi string concerto (No. 143), everyone spread out to face the audience in a last unison dance.

Friday and Saturday nights Boston-based BoSoma (for Boston Somatic) Dance Company gave a five-year retrospective concert at Boston University Dance Theater. This all-female group has two co-directors, Irada Djelassi and Katherine Hooper, who contributed alternating selections to the program. These dances, like the Boston Conservatory premieres, proved to be plotless expositions of movement. The musical selections were somewhat more diverse, ranging from American-Indian pop and East-Indian pop to Kodo drumming to jazz and rhythm and blues. But the curious thing was that the multicultural array of songs, poetry, and new-age music didn’t really rub off on the dances.

I have an impression of neatly trained modern dancers with their hair pulled back in neat, tight knots, showing neat movement combinations with lots of high leg extensions, whirling pivot turns, leaps and runs and lifts. The performers looked noncommittal, impersonal, even at times when the choreography implied friendship or community.

In Djelassi’s Boxed, the one piece that had some development from beginning to end, a woman crouched in a small rectangle of light while two others patrolled the perimeter. By degrees, as the patch of light got bigger, they exchanged places and moved out into space. Then two of the women left and the third crouched again in her shrunken cage of light.

BoSoma invited Boston jazz matriarch, teacher-choreographer Adrienne Hawkins, to make a new work for the company. Whoa-Man 360 used a collection of blues and affirmations by black women singers for a suite of playful dances in the style of the old Alvin Ailey character studies. These modern dancers looked out of their element in Hawkins’s sultry chair dances and hip-swinging, down-and-dirty chorus lines. Like the Boston Consevatory Steps in the Street, this piece betrayed how light and facile dancers’ training has become, how little they know of getting into the skin of some new persona, and how pale dance looks when it’s all done with styleless, guileless proficiency.

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