The title of Daniel McCusker's premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Art last weekend was Hidden Noise
, but the sound template for the five works on the program was noise in plain earshot. Although Hidden Noise
itself was performed with no soundtrack, it began with McCusker on stage counting "1-2-3-4-5-6" to start the other seven dancers off, and the thumping footfalls continued throughout. (At one point on Friday, an exit door was opened in the Barbara Lee Family Theater, and later, a crying child was taken out — John Cagean accidents?) The score to Kelley Donovan's new Age of Unraveling
was a litany of staticky squawks and stutters and antiphonal speaker hums; Caitlin Corbett's Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva
, which she premiered at the Tsai Performance Center last December, was punctuated by what sounded like a Finnish department-store elevator operator enumerating the goods on the various floors, and then what might have been conversation from a Finnish cocktail party. Even McCusker's 2000 solo Indian Summer
had a flare-up of city traffic and overheard snippets ("He's going to Germany on Friday"). And the music we did get kept folding in on itself, à la Philip Glass or Steve Reich, in nervous ostinatos. Call it local dance's Age of Anxiety.
It's not that Corbett, McCusker, and Donovan could have felt any concern over the box office. World Music/CRASHarts presented the trio — arguably Boston's three best-known contemporary choreographers — in two evenings at the ICA, and on Friday night, at least, the event just about sold out. But the dances themselves kept unraveling and restarting, as if unsure of their destination. Donovan's program note described Age of Unraveling as exploring "transformation and the cycle of creation, destruction, and rebuilding." Her own periodic writhing, meditative solos gave shape to a work in which the other eight dancers seemed to be exorcising memories and battling invisible opponents with flailing arms and heavy breathing, while a melody, complete with backbeat, tried to emerge. It all ended in a volley of fireworks — or was that artillery?
Indian Summer, for which McCusker commissioned a clarinet-and-tape piece from Chris Eastburn, was danced by Tufts senior Alyza Del Pan-Manley with reverence, as if her circling, spinning, pointing, and surveying were a ritual. There was a generosity about her arms and a luxuriant quality to her slow rolling, but before the piece could arrive, it stopped. The most intriguing thing about Hidden Noise was its title, which alludes to a Marcel Duchamp readymade into which collector Walter Arensberg inserted, at Duchamp's request, an unknown object that would make a noise. The dancing, rooted in a firm walking stride, started out in probing duos, one partner exploring, the other guiding with a hand on the shoulder. Then it devolved into follow-the-leader movement and what might have been a ghostly game of red light, and at one point the other male dancer, Brian Crabtree, looked directly at the audience. Here, too, the exploration was cut off mid gesture.
Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva was joined by a new Corbett work, no obvious poetry, either. The poetry mightn't have been obvious, but it wasn't impossible to find in the spontaneity with which Leah Bergmann, Kaela Lee, Meghan McLyman, and Nicole Pierce (who were joined by Jimena Bermejo-Black and Maggie Husak in Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva) moved, partnered and repartnered, looked at one another and adjusted their positioning and spacing. Both Corbett pieces ratcheted up the tension in their second half, the Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva sextet kicking and windmilling before holding up their hands, then dropping to the floor. But there was, as in the pieces from McCusker and Donovan, no obvious originality in the movement vocabulary.