By Alexis Soloski
By Molly Grogan
By R. C. Baker
By Christian Viveros-FaunÃ©
By Alexis Soloski
By Alexis Soloski
By Lilly Lampe
When Carmen de Lavallade, Gus Solomons jr, and Dudley Williams founded Paradigm in 1996, they were challenging the dance worlds family tradition: You started as a student, matured into a professional, and, well before you turned 50, you retired from the stage and perhaps choreographed and/or taught a new generation of children. But these three stellar performers saw no reason to quit doing what made them happy. And, of course, they proved to audiences that youth didnt have a corner on beauty. The gala following Paradigms opening night at St. Marks Church celebrated both the groups 15th anniversary and the outrageously gorgeous de Lavallades 80th birthday.
The program titled Paradigm Shift: Past Present, and Future began with a new take on its 1996 trio, A Thin Frost.This version is performed by three men (Solomons, Williams, and Michael Blake), dressed alike in white pants and sleeveless tops. Seated primly in a triangle of three chairs, the men begin darting looks at each other, edging around one anothers territories, conversing in nonsense syllables, gasps, grunts, and roars. Their edgy relationship is timed to laughter-inducing perfection, and they charm us with their idiosyncrasies: slender, elegant Williams with his subtly diva-ish manner; Blake getting his feet stuck in invisible glue thats materialized around his chair; long-limbed Solomons acting as if hes attacked by a swarm of unpleasant somethings.
For the present aspect of the title, who could be more fully present than de Lavallade, who inhabits her brand new solo, Tango With Ghosts, like a gracious hostess treating memories as guests. She performs to one of Astor Piazzolas tangos, which is mysteriously invaded at times by gusts of Vivaldis The Seasons. Shes wearing a simple outfit by Zinda: blue-green velour pants and a long-sleeved shirt of the same material. De Lavallade stretches the shirt out from her slim body as if contradictory impulses were tugging her in various directions, but no matter how recklessly she hauls on it, it returns to its shape.
Its amazing how many nuanced feelings beset her and then slip fluidly into other ones. Now she senses a menace. Now she looks toward the church balcony, innocently hopeful as a girl. She can appear to be a model on a vestigial runway, twitching at her shirt and pants, or a happy, flirtatious performer, sure of her audience. At one point, she pulls the back of the shirt up and over her head; crouched down, with her elbows pushing the fabric out in a frame around her, she evokes Martha Graham, encased in stretch jersey in her famous solo Lamentation.
At the end of this stunning performance, de Lavallade removes a gold bracelet from one wrist and leaves it in the spotlight, where Kyle Abraham picks it up and puts it on. Handing on the torch? Abraham (who studied with Solomons in the course of getting his MFA at NYU) presumably represents the futurealthough his own present is busy enough. He is super-up-to-date in an excerpt from his Live! The Realest MC. Before the recording of Bill Evanss Peace Piece, we hear a voice instructing Abraham, who has his back to us, how to do a hip roll. Abraham practices. Faster and faster. The girls like it, the teacher says. Abraham turns and gives us exactly the kind of look weve been waiting for.
Its fascinating to see himbarely traveling from one spotperform what could almost be a hip-hop routine, but slowed down and smoothed out until it becomes a kind of muscular lyricism. Although he occasionally flashes into leaps or whirls his arms so fast they blur, he always returns to a deeper, more elastic way of moving. When he drops into a sitting position with a single, silky motion and rises over the tips of his toes, you hear spectators gasp. But theres no flash. Except for the silver-sequined back of the shirt that Abraham reveals when he takes off his jacket.
Kate Weare too belongs to a generation later than that of Paradigms founders, so I guess she counts as future. Shes made a fascinating piece, Idyll, to music by Anouar Brahem, for de Lavallade, Black, Solomons, and Karen Brown. Wearing multi-colored, lightweight outfits by Sarah Cubbage, the performers work in pairs.
To a guitar melody thats joined by a plucked bass, Weare displays two simultaneous duets, occurring in an X of light or diagonal paths that Mike Inwood lays on the floor. The relationships are tender but unpredictable; these could be parents and childrenthe women always together, the men inseparable. Brown gently manipulates a compliant de Lavallade; Blake hoists Solomons slightly off the ground to change their path. The performers heads become strangely important. Brown turns de Lavallade by pressing gently on her head. Many times, Solomons and Blake grasp or stroke one anothers smooth scalps. The sexes closest encounter comes when Solomons strains toward the women, and Blake, waggling his own hips, holds him back; the women pull handkerchiefs from their bosoms and flick them at the men. As the lights fade, Blake is sliding to the floor, braced by Solomons, and the women are walking away. This isnt the happiest idyll I can imagine, but its a persuasive one.