Black-and-White and Scary

Individual and cultural takes on choreographic modernity still reflect one big trendy tribe

Polly Motley has little in common with the steely virtuosos of La La La Human Steps or the emotion-driven warriors of the Beijing Modern Dance Company. This is not simply because she's a soloist, but because she's a quiet woman. Her Dancing the Numbers took me back to the 1970s, where settling down to watch people slowly and sensitively explore a space and small, intricate changes within their own bodies was a satisfying way to spend an evening.

Motley is a mature woman as trim as a girl. Her small-boned body makes her appear vulnerable, despite her strength, but so does a certain softness in her gestures and a questioning gaze. She bases the timing of her solo's sections on the Fibonacci numeral series, in which each new number is the sum of the two previous ones; but that's for her to know, not for us to see. She does hint at the numbers immediately after she has walked into St. Mark's wearing a snowy tanktop and wide-legged, interestingly cut black pants, and looked us over as if in unstated greeting. "One," she says, raising an arm very slowly. "One." "Two." As she repeats her gesture, she complicates it slightly, makes it more three-dimensional. After a while, Paul Geluso begins to introduce spare sounds into her world: pattering drums, her own voice, bird song, crickets, running water, the rumbling of a train, the whoosh of an airplane, tinklings, woody tones.

Dancing the Numbers has a hushed elegance, perhaps because everything Motley does seems carefully chosen, whether or not she's improvising. You don't wonder why she holds her hands like an open book and speaks for some time, getting subtly louder and faster, in what might be Hawaiian gibberish. You don't question why she lies prone and seems almost to struggle, or worry when her feet stick to something invisible on the floor. She stands on one leg for a long time like a resting heron. She deconstructs what might once have been a Javanese court dance.

Dark magic: Édouard Lock's Amelia
photo: Cary Conover
Dark magic: Édouard Lock's Amelia

Details

La La La Human Steps
Brooklyn Academy of Music
February 1 through 5
Beijing Modern Dance Company
Joyce Theater
February 8 through 13

Polly Motley
Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church
February 3 through 6

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Her movements are always supple yet controlled. Soft. She inserts her arms into the air as if it were a delicate garment. Yet subtle variegations in design and tone color her movements. There's a thick, knotted green rope on the floor, leading toward the altar platform. She never acknowledges it, but when she finishes she's at the foot of the steps.

Your eyes behave differently when confronted with work this intimate and unpressured. And you put your expectations to sleep, grateful for small, lovely surprises.

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