By Christian Viveros-Faun√©
By Miriam Felton-Dansky
By Tom Sellar
By Tom Sellar
By Jessica Dawson
By Tom Sellar
By R. C. Baker
By Tom Sellar
"Can anything be new, original, private?" asked the spoken text that accompanied Twyla Tharp's 1971 The Bix Pieces. Not really. Yes. (Certainly both those answers could be true when considering the marvelous Bix.) I can see-or think I see-how Andrea Miller, the founder (in 2006) and sole choreographer of Gallim Dance, was influenced by her training in the Humphrey-Weidman technique and her two years in Ohad Naharin's Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company. Like Humphrey's choreography, Miller's movements for Blush acknowledge the weight of the human body and the ways in which emotion affects and perhaps deforms it. The six dancers who perform it at Jacob's Pillow (Bret Easterling, Caroline Fermin, Moo Kim, Troy Ogilvie, Francesca Romo, and Dan Walczak) have the intensity and brute force of Naharin's company members, as well as their sensitivity to the body on an almost molecular level. Yet Miller, only five years after graduating from Juilliard, gives signs of being a most original artist.
Blush happens in a kind of arena. A white line the height of a dancer's waist runs across its three black walls. The brilliant lighting designer Vincent Vigilante has placed a number of lamps close to the floor, and the atmosphere is predominantly dark and smoky, except when a row of amber footlights at the back of the stage shines in our eyes and, near the end, when bright light suffuses the Doris Duke Studio Theater. Costume designer José Solis garbed Gallim's three women in black trunks, ankle warmers, and semi-backless, loose-sleeved tops. The three men also wear ankle-warmers, but they're bare-chested, and their trunks have a loincloth-like drape. White paint covers their hair and bodies; through it, the performers' natural skin tones emerge, but only dimly.
The opening solo performed by Kim to Pimmon's "Introduction to the Sound of a Kiss" establishes the physical language of this fierce tribe. He often strikes a movement and holds it. He hunches his body, walks in a squat, scrabbles backward on the floor, and wrenches his torso around with single-minded precision. He walks the fine line between stability and loss of balance, whirling into fall after fall. Already in this solo, Miller's grasp of dynamics is evident, as is her ability to vary big, whole-body movements with smaller, isolated gestures. This is surprising, given the fact that her dancers are almost always in control, never limp.
The world they inhabit is a strange one. What at first seems recognizable is skewed into unfamiliarity. While the women dance in unison-turning their heads briefly to look at us as they walk away, legs wide apart, knees bent-the men crawl on their sides along the back of the stage. When the men do rise, they walk for a while like zombies to the music's deep, muttering drums and high, hissing beat (Andrzej Przbytkowski's original composition). That's when the row of yellow lights comes on. There are rules in this community. Three pairs, every now and then changing partners, dance in shifting three-part counterpoint. Moves such as those that Romo (a co-founder of the company) and Fermin show us (while the other four lie in a row, supine and arching, between us and them) reappear later in the piece. In the midst of duet with Kim, Ogilvie lifts a hand to smooth her hair; the gesture appears casual, but when she repeats it a few seconds later, it assumes the status of a choreographic element.
The behavior of these people is almost always single-minded. And hostile without being malevolent. Easterling and Walczak shove Ogilvie stiffly and rapidly back and forth between them as if this were a job they had to do. Later, and for a long time, these two men grapple-wrestling, embracing, knocking each other to the floor. Easterling springs onto Walczak's back, puts a hand over his eyes, and calls out directions while Walczak carries him along. Their duet is punishing, but it finishes as it began, with the two of them in dim light, their arms around each other, running in a circle.
It's intriguing that some of the activities in Blush are accompanied by Chopin piano pieces and Arvo Pärt's haunting "Fratres." The sweetness of the music hints at what might lurk beneath the daunting rituals. In the end, without warning, the lights brighten, and to Wolf Parade's "I'll Believe in Anything," the terrific performers thrust their arms into the air, burst into plodding leaps, and dodge around in foolish games. This is as happy as they get. By now, sweat has had its way with the white paint, and their skin is indeed blushing with life.
If Miller pursues her ideas via skilled dancers and redefined formality, Jean-Claude Gallotta, the founder-director of Groupe Emile Dubois, mingles dancers and non-dancers in simple patterns and encounters that are meant to look only slightly different from what we might glimpse on the streets of a very imaginative and lively town. Polished maneuvers retain a rough edge. The company, which Gallotta formed in Grenoble with Mathilde Altarez in 1979, became the resident of one of France's National Choreographic Centers two years later. The group hasn't performed here for a number of years; the last work of Gallotta's that I saw was, I believe, his well-known Mammame from the 1980s. Des Gens Qui Dansent, the piece he brought to Jacob's Pillow, is the third episode of a trilogy begun in 2000. If Gallotta's performers are more diverse than those of two decades ago, the slightly whimsical charm of his imagination remains.