Untold tales

Bebe Miller at the ICA, Kelley Donovan at the Dance Complex
By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 26, 2007
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LANDING/PLACE: You might grasp the meaning later. Or not.

Some dances are made on specific story lines that they keep to themselves. In the post-Cunningham era, many choreographers have sought to hide any psychological/confessional information that might have prompted their dances. Merce Cunningham himself, of course, has insisted that his dances aren’t about anything except themselves, and one of his most important contributions to his patrimony is the catalogue of strategies he and John Cage developed to combat the desire for self-expression. Cunningham’s own dancers, including Carolyn Brown in her new memoir, Chance and Circumstance, have doubted whether his choreography was completely neutral and free from private concerns, but this distanced posture has worked for decades as a way of playing down choreographic ego.

Two interesting dances last week asked us to think about what they didn’t say. Both Bebe Miller (at the ICA, presented by CRASHarts) and Kelley Donovan (at the Dance Complex) seemed to be exploring deep subtexts that weren’t visible, and in different ways they both came up with the oddly reassuring thought that modern dance — or postmodern dance — is still a medium that can be provocative and expressive.

Miller, now on the dance faculty at Ohio State University, has access to impressive resources and the time for dancemaking. She worked on the multimedia Landing/Place for two or three years before premiering it in 2005. To prepare and perform it the cast assembles from home bases in five cities, and the dance itself maps landscapes, destinations, site-specific happenings, without revealing how they were brought together. The projected images, actions, and sounds may resonate later to connect up in your mind. And if they don’t, you might still retain a bunch of curious and disturbing images, like the remnants of a dream.

For instance, to an insistent, loud, pumping sound, the five dancers (Jeanine Durning, Angie Hauser, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Darrell Jones, and Keith Thompson) snuggle up in a line and stomp from foot to foot like Balanchine’s wastrel boys in Prodigal Son. One person or another steps out to become a kind of adversary, but the ensemble keeps re-assembling and reasserting its froggy solidarity.

After a sequence of awkward duets, a man sets a woman down into a headstand with her legs angled out crookedly. She balances for a long time. Shadowy images of branches slide across the background, and when you look again at the stage, another woman is being upended in the same ragged position and the first one disappears.

A man carries in a cup and saucer. He bends over it from the shoulders but doesn’t drink.

Two people square off as if for a fight in a red square of light. They don’t fight, but against films of avalanches and hurricanes, with recorded grunting voices and metallic vibrations, they arch back until they’re facing the sky. One by one they’re joined by others to begin another sequence of backbends, but always they regroup into opposing factions.

A woman appears with a shallow wooden box. Lemons spill out all over the stage. She picks them up and puts them back in the box. All except three, which she places on the carefully overturned box. Suddenly she has a cleaver in her hand. She hacks one lemon in two and sucks on one half. When she’s gotten the juice out of it, she chops some more and hands pieces to the other dancers.

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