Black on White

Danes at NYCB, Killer Nurses on Pointe, and Magic Apples at Dixon Place

Oberfelder is not retelling familiar plots. Her 17 little dances extract an essential truth from each tale, with quotes in the program as guidelines. Acrobatics function as metaphor. Summoning up blindness in "Divine Betrothal," she keeps Joel grafted to Caggiano much of the time; they cartwheel holding hands. "Sojourn" embodies the line "She had the gift of seeing far into the distance"; no matter what complicated, linked gymnastics Caggiano, Sundberg, and Matthew Thornton indulge in, the wide-eyed Sundberg always seems to end up aloft, scanning the horizon.

The six performers excel at far more than flipping through the air. They reveal awkwardness, uncertainty, and the trove of emotions behind the stories. Oberfelder conflates the fierce old tales with childhood innocence, without losing the dark undertones. The one about a mother stewing her little son and feeding him to his father is expressed by conflict on a very small table, uneasy play with potatoes, and a last-ditch round of musical chairs. The choreography reveals not the horrid act, but the apprehension that to lose the game can be a dreadful thing.

Hospital corner: Blyskal and Magario terrorize Jessica Ames in Willberg's Euthanasia.
photo: Ellen Crane
Hospital corner: Blyskal and Magario terrorize Jessica Ames in Willberg's Euthanasia.

This fall, Nala Najan sent me a video. It was a goodbye gift. Watching him in his prime, performing Bharata Natyam, Kathak, and Chhau solos, reminded me all over again what an extraordinary dancer he was. His gestures and postures were so clean, so bold, so full of fire, his acting so expressive, his slender body a reed swaying with passion. When I thanked him, I asked what made a boy born Roberto Rivera leave America at 15 to study in India. He answered that that was another story. Maybe he'd find time to tell it. AIDS finally claimed him, at 69, on January 7. Too soon!

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