The result of several years of transatlantic visits and correspondence, the finished work is in three parts—all set to music composed by Paul Dresher. Other Suns I was choreographed by Jenkins and her company, plus guest dancer Amy Foley. Liu Qi, deputy artistic director of GMDC, choreographed Other Suns II, in collaboration with her company members and guest dancer Norma Fong (and after joint workshops with the MJDC members). Both companies appear in and contributed to Jenkins’s Other Suns III.

In this endlessly beautiful production, dancers negotiate boundaries, collide, and explore ingenious ways to support and test one another. At times, the action is so gripping that you can’t look away. At other times, it almost seems as if you’re watching an art installation in motion. Your eye can wander to this group or that duo, even briefly tune out. And that feels all right too.

In Alexander V. Nichols’s stunning visual design, a host of little lights hangs above the stage. It’s one of them that Joseph Copley is trying to swat at—jumping over and over as the lights dim on the first part of the trilogy. Luckily for the audience, Dresher’s score for guitar, violin, keyboard, piano, bass, and mallet percussion is played live by members of his ensemble. The music’s spare delicate moments, lush melodies, and thunderous, driving repetitions underscore the dynamic variations in the choreography.

Douglas Dunn’s "Cleave."
Boyd Hagen
Douglas Dunn’s "Cleave."
The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in "Other Suns I"
Bonnie Kamin
The Margaret Jenkins Dance Company in "Other Suns I"

Details

Douglas Dunn & Dancers
Danspace Project at Saint Markís Church
October 8 through 10

Margaret Jenkins Dance Company & Guangdong Modern Dance Company
Alexander Kasser Theater, Montclair State University
October 15 through 18

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In the resonant opening of Other Suns I, Foley tries to attach herself to Copley, who’s impassive. By the time six other Jenkins dancers have entered to stand shoulder to shoulder with Copley, Foley is confronting a wall. It gives a little when she pushes at one end, but still resists. Later, a line forms again, but this time those in it respond more swiftly to her pushing, even though four of them instantly form a square, almost like a traveling cage, inside which Kelly Del Rosario tosses himself about. In Other Suns II, Fong too confronts a wall, but when she jumps at it, the other dancers of GMDC catch her and, holding her, turn to face another direction; she’s made them change, and they bend over so she can crawl across the backs. Walking walls of people absorb and disgorge soloists.

Often in all three pieces, the dancers cling to one another for stability, yet when we first see five of the six Chinese dancers in Other Suns II, they’re wearing gray satin pants and gray tops by Liu Qi, and they move in immaculate unison without ever rising from the floor. Rolling, arching up, falling backward to thrust their legs in the air, they seem more balanced, more at ease than the dancers in Other Suns I.

The variety of lifts and entanglements is astonishing. In all three dances, people fly through the air, rebound off one another, labor together to create a kind of perpetually shifting sculpture of give and take. The stage is often a busy place—a duet may continue while other activities come and go in front of it. Soloists may succeed ensemble endeavors or roam among them. Often three or four different groups are tracing their own patterns simultaneously. Sometimes the encounters occur with violent speed; sometimes they flow serenely along.

Other Suns III is particularly vivid. Now all 14 magnificent dancers, costumed in similar browns and beiges by Vivi Zhang, vault on and off the stage. As Margaret Cromwell, Qi, and Hui Guanglei mesh together to create constantly shifting images of support and gentle daring, others from both companies stand like trees or lie on the floor, and still other men enter or leave, each carrying a woman draped over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry. Some of the images have a dramatic urgency—Copley, for instance, ringed in by four others, or men carrying women who are frozen in poses and tipped sideways and then dropping them. The choreography is a panoply of swirling, flying motion, of clusters breaking apart, of contrapuntal patterns, of quiet moments for two or three.

It’s in this last part of the trilogy that the concept of a barrier between the two groups or within each group becomes porous. Once, about halfway through, all the dancers stand clustered at the back. They walk quietly forward, four or so at a time, and then retreat as others come forward. Sometimes, they have to touch one another lightly to make their way through. They repeat this sequence at the very end of the piece. Only this time, subtly touching one another, or shifting to make way for a comrade, becomes a gracious, even affectionate symbol of accommodating to differences and sharing the dance. It sends a message of across-borders collaboration just as powerful as the daring, trusting leaps into one another’s arms.

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