Nuts in May

From Martha to Hip-Hop—New Yorkers, It’s All Ours!

For Winter Belly, O'Connor edges the performing space with bare blue-green trees, frostily lit by Brian MacDevitt. James Baker's audible winter landscape fits the choreography so perfectly moment by moment that you can imagine music and dance being composed at the same time. As the piece begins, O'Connor is on the floor, rolling and thrashing, while Chrysa Parkinson, Heather Olson, Luis DeRobles Tentindo, and the others stand in a circle watching him. The whole work has the atmosphere of a hushed winter world, disturbed by sudden eruptions of human discord and branches crashing onto ice.

O'Connor uses the full resources of the body; his steps are complex, demanding, often very fast. In Choke, however, he has created phrases out of "ordinary" (sometimes very un-ordinary) gestures seen on the street, splicing them together, repeating them until they begin to look strange, obsessive. If one person does a "get lost!" hand wave, mouthing the words, it's New York life; if three do it together, it's a lost planet. Here the scenery is a four-tiered horizontal drape of filmy white cloths, and McDevitt's lighting is harsh white. Baker's score again sensitively underlines the movement. Fascinating as it is, this dance feels long. It keeps threatening to end, but those gestures continue to multiply like orderly viruses.

Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions
photo: Pete Kuhns
Smooth moves: Najib Guerfi and Bintou Dembele in Compagnie Käfig’s Dix Versions

It was bound to happen: the art-ification of hip-hop; those headspins and kinked-leg handstands were too enthralling just to hang out on street corners. Doug Elkins incorporated break-dance moves into postmodern dance, and the style figures in the French Compagnie Montalvo-Hervieu's charming circuses; Rennie Harris gives it a political cast. B-boy groups abound in France. Compagnie Käfig's Dix Versions, co-produced by Dance Theater Workshop at the Joyce last week, Pilobolizes hip-hop. The raw, competitive form that grew up in the projects surrounding French cities among a population largely from North Africa becomes sleek, well behaved, and subject to theatrical magic. Under artistic director Mourad Merzouki's choreographic guidance, Käfig's nine charming and virtuosic dancers (all male but Bintou Dembele), wearing white jumpsuits, dance in unison, in antiphonal squads, and with filmed doubles on three hanging panels. (The stop-go rhythms and freezes of popping and locking lend themselves to counterpoint.) Three guys conceal their heads in hanging Japanese lanterns (very elongated, the better to focus our attention on their uncannily rippling arms). At one point, four play a magician's trick with three boxes, turning themselves into one super-long person and a sawed-apart one. Video designer Pierre Jacob has Dembele's image slide down a panel; when she hits the floor and disappears, the real Dembele pops out from behind.

One problem: The vocabulary is basically small. You see almost all of it in the first few minutes. To sustain an evening, Käfig needs effects. Poetry by Nati'K is heard ("What is our job in this universe?") and occasional choral effusions in the music of Franck II Louise and Noël Kay (Kapoudjaian) soften the powerful beat. Yoann Tivoli's lighting creates poetic moments. Merzouki keeps the piece moving and shrewdly showcases the dancers' specialties. Super-flexible Hafid Sour can practically detach his head from his shoulders. Kareem Beddaoudia does multiple pirouettes on his head. Tubby Julio "Klown" Santiago offers comedic charm and a formidable dancing belly. (One of the brightest dance passages is a brief trio for Santiago, Sour, and Najib Guerfi.) You not only admire the performers' skill; you get very attached to all of them.

This will be my last column for a while. Except for three weeks in mid season, I'll be on leave from the Voice until October. While I try to finish a book, this page will feature other voices. Have a dance-filled summer!

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