Whatever these three are doing in this surreal musical memory bank, they’ve come here with the intent to do it. And they achieve a certain consensus by absorbing one another’s steps. In the end, they hook their boom boxes to three decorative hanging wires (stage design by Solomon Weisbard), set them swinging in the dimming light, and leave the space.


It’s hard to believe that Ivy Baldwin has been choreographing for ten years; she formed a small company the same year she collected her MFA from NYU-Tisch (yes, I knew her when). Since then, she’s become a bright feature of the “downtown” scene in New York and shown her work at festivals abroad. She strikes me as a hunter-gatherer sort of choreographer—foraging for one thing, finding another, and mixing them together in weird, mysterious, and compelling ways until they have only misty affinities with their natural states. The title of her new Bear Crown comes from the name of a beer that she and her colleagues drank during a residency in Romania. That was an Olympic year. Being in Romania quickened her awareness of its dark past and more hopeful future. There is no beer drinking in Bear Crown, but there are hints of crowns and royalty (sports stars and the dynastic sort), athleticism, competitions, animal behavior, a repressive society, and splintering team spirit.

Bear Crown happens in a strangely barren place. The area between DTW’s dark-gray brick walls is transformed by Chlöe Z[[STET NO PERIOD ON INITIAL]]] Brown’s elegant lighting into zones of warmth, chill, or interrogation-room brightness. The only object onstage is a semicircular tier of three steep, broad steps, designed by Mendel Rabinovitch. Glowing like copper, it makes you think of a platform for a throne and the dais where Olympian champions stand to receive their medals. Baldwin makes sure we get an impression of grandeur right away. I can’t recall seeing a purple velvet curtain at DTW before or listening to a lengthy overture. Justin Jones’s music (at this point and throughout the dance) loops mangled sounds of human fervor, explosions, rumbles of traffic, and what could be a host of pealing bells. The program credits additional music to Bonnie Tyler and Tchaikovsky, so maybe Jones sampled the “1812 Overture.”

Jeremy Nelson and Luis Lara Malvacías in "Sooner Than You Think"
Julie Lemberger
Jeremy Nelson and Luis Lara Malvacías in "Sooner Than You Think"
Ivy Baldwin and Lawrence Cassella in "Bear Crown."
Steven Schreiber
Ivy Baldwin and Lawrence Cassella in "Bear Crown."

Details

Jeremy Nelson & Luis Lara Malvacías
Ailey Citigroup Theater
March 18 through 22

Julian Barnett
Danspace Project at Saint Mark’s Church
March 19 through 21

Ivy Baldwin Dance
Dance Theater Workshop
March 18 through 21

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Mindy Nelson introduces a walk that becomes a motif. Holding her slightly bent arms out to the sides, her fingers curled into loose fists, she takes two steps, and then slams one foot behind and across the other. This is a triumphal march that could easily trip her up. Nelson, Baldwin, Anna Carapetyan, Lawrence Cassella, and Katie Workum stand and churn their bodies around, shoving the air with those same semi-fists. But intermittently, one or another will pause and clench her hands until they shake—sometimes mimicking body-builder stances, sometimes not.

Baldwin, with the collaboration of her performers, shapes the work provocatively. Often actions start out one way and become something else. Shielding one’s eyes, or caressing one’s face with hands like animal paws, morph into a sparring match. Whimsy acquires a sharp edge as the chorusing women chat with Cassella, all of them reclining like cats. “My, what lovely bear rug you’ve got there! Did you get it at the bear rug store?” he inquires in honeyed tones. They return the question. The very funny sequence builds into a duet in which Baldwin and Cassella, at first standing close enough to kiss, argue about which of them loves the other one more, getting increasingly far apart as they wrangle.

The piece is not all gestural. The performers race around. They leap. They hop heavily along intricate paths. Nor is everything deceptively sweet. Workum and Cassella struggle to force Nelson’s striving arms down; it’s hard to tell whether they’re restraining her or enabling her. After Carapetyan has performed an exhausting solo, Workum hurls her against the walls, the proscenium, the aisles. Following each punishment, Workum looks at the others, who’re standing in a rank. Taking their impassivity for orders, she hauls Carapetyan to her feet and continues. The shadow of former Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu hovers over the space. Yet in the end, the dancers, clustered, kneel on one knee and open their arms and chest to a downpour of light. Whatever events this hall-of-mirrors arena hosts, winning trophies is not in the cards.

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