Fear and Loving

Choreography Unspools in Two Downtown Series

SPECIAL TO THE WEB: CDs by composer and superb vocalist Philip Hamilton were on sale in the lobby of the Joyce, and people crowded around as they exited after taking in his Vocalscapes: A Gathering. No wonder. This Altogether Different program was built around Hamilton’s music, and, for the most part, the efforts of the participating choreographers paled beside his work.

Hamilton is a warm presence onstage, an interesting blend of ease and serenity with power. His voice can seem to come from the soles of his feet or click around in his mouth playing games with his tongue. He’s at home in pop songs, as a jazz stylist, and as a purveyor of sounds and rhythms that summon up Africa, the Caribbean, and other cultures. His track record is impressive (recently he toured with Pat Metheny, and he’s been featured on a number of records). He’s also written scores for dancers, and that was the raison d’être for this event.

Barnett and Kennedy in Elkins's Mermaids
photo: Tom Brazil
Barnett and Kennedy in Elkins's Mermaids

The stage is full of musicians—10 in addition to Hamilton—and the sounds are luscious. The most vociferous applause comes for Hamilton’s solo Hands, in which he waves a mic to make his busy voice fade and blare as if he’s chasing himself around the block, and for his dazzling phone argument, Morning Song. The high point of the evening in terms of dance was Andrea Woods’s solo, Lagos Lullabye, backed up by singers Mary Wormworth and Treva Offutt, who soothe and incite her as she pulls dancing through her body like silk and ties it off with arresting vigor.

There are other pleasures. In Flat Foot Freddie, Telly Fowler addresses a barrage of wild-legged, African-influenced dancing to his upstage shadow. Jaclynn Villamil, the gray of her floating costume matching her hair, delineates a gently emotional landscape, punctuated by subtle changes of awareness. The pas de deux A Touch of Touch by Steven Mills, artistic director of Ballet Austin, contains some interesting moves for Gina Patterson and Eric Midgley (he lifts her barely off the floor and skids her along as if he can’t decide where to put her down).

A swarm of women in red take over the stage in Kevin Wynn’s The Race, and they’re vibrant. The performers in the rest of the numbers—by Wynn, Michèle Assaf, and Noa—are more interesting than their material (Cria Merchant and Fowler invest the pick-her-up-put-her-down choreography of a duet by Wynn with admirable nuance). The music by Hamilton—some of it co-composed with pianist Peter Jones—is nevertheless the star of a show that, despite Aaron Copp’s attempts to unify it with fancy lighting effects, seems as hastily assembled as its bollixed printed program.

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