We know this world pierced by beams of smoky light and besieged by crashes of electronic music. Its denizens are beautiful, fierce, and obsessed with sex. Women wield legs like pincers. Usually we never find out why they’re so het up; they just are. Many companies think they need at least one dance that shoots audiences this apocalyptic vision.
During its 40th-anniversary season at City Center (continuing through January 3), the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater unveils Lettres d’Amour by Redha, a French African choreographer. His imaginative decadence creates startling variations on the theme of spirito-sexual unrest. The male dancers wear long, sleeveless coatdresses over practically nothing, which gives them the air of renegade monks. Two masked men pulling at their clothing look to be mortifying the flesh. Another guy handles a woman’s foot as if it were holy.
The stage is a hotbed of slow, weird activities in which your eyes may pick out, say, men lounging about like lotus-eaters, licking their arms. Everyone watches everyone else. When Bahiyah Sayyed and Benoit Swan Pouffer aren’t tangling spectacularly around each other, they’re staring while Lynn Barre, Matthew Rushing, and Richard Witter push their way into innovative triadic embraces, or watching Witter turn his hands into crabs and his arms into broken wings while a countertenor sings (the music ranges from Arvo Pärt and Benjamin Britten to Gabrielle Roth and the Mirrors).
Ours not to question what this doomed eroticism means. Do not ponder whether being pinned between four wheeled-in spotlights with fans attached makes Renee Robinson a martyr; admire her beauty, her blowing hair with the light shining through.
The Ailey dancers— including Linda-Denise Evans, Solange Sandy Groves, Linda Cáceres, Jeffrey Girodias, Glenn A. Sims, and Edward Franklin— perform the piece with superb sensuality and intensity. I’m puzzled, though, by the company’s dancing in a squeaky-clean revival of Ailey’s Streams. They’re gorgeous, but don’t phrase the movement or play with dynamics. You see every step separately, and it’s like hearing someone play scales.
Among the annual crop of ballets about growing up amid capering candies, The Yorkville Nutcracker, in its third miniseason at the Kaye Playhouse, is a sweet and cozy specimen. Guest artists with New York City Ballet pedigrees (I saw Lourdes Lopez and Jock Soto as the Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier) spice up the proceedings, but choreographer Francis Patrelle also crams in scads of children from Ballet Academy East. Teensy prancing reindeer! Even tinier pages! Small toddling angels!
The party takes place at Mayor Strong’s mansion in 1895 New York (Gillian Bradshaw-Smith and Rita B. Watson designed, respectively, the good sets and costumes). The guests are foreign consuls and their families, in traditional attire. The nimble dancing doll (Philip J. Spencer) brought by the magician-uncle (Donald Paradise) wears a coonskin cap. Despite a majestic Queen and King (Deborah Wingert and François Perron), the snow scene has the frosty cheer of a Currier and Ives skating party in Central Park; fashionable teens skim around and— as in Frederick Ashton’s Les Patineurs— a boy skater (the gifted Jonathan Porretta) spins and spins. In this family entertainment, the Nutcracker is no little girl’s dream lover; he’s her brother— nice at last.
Sara Bumpus and Vincent Paradiso are winsome as the siblings. Courtney Conner has a bright turn as the maid. As an Arab, Marcello Pereira bundles up his legs in convincing Nureyev-style jumps. Patrelle suits the steps to the various levels of proficiency so that everyone from kids to pros comes out a winner.
Spectators at the collegial Improvisation Festival/New York are likely to have spent the day tumbling around in contact improvisation workshops. At a Judson Church performance, Eva Karczag cools their souls. Once in Trisha Brown’s company, now teaching in Holland, Karczag’s both serene and wide-eyed, womanly and somehow innocent. She has honey in her joints. Folding at the hips and knees to sink floorward, she moves her haunches as plushly as a cat, yet can run like a child. Warren Burt and Chris Mann, her collaborators in de-orbit burn, enmesh her with stop-and-start taped sounds; one of them talks into a mike, high and fast and garbly. (“language is when you correct the grammar of your oppressor,” advises the program.) The sounds might as well be buzzing flies Karczag’s learned to cope with. Their sandpaperiness only increases her calm.
Improvising, she wraps herself in a large thought, pauses to consider, then focuses on small details, like fanning herself with one hand or shifting her weight. She’s a very quiet dancer. The sounds provided by her colleagues may rouse her subtly, but only deepen her silent resonance.
Karczag’s sensibility was formed during the ’70s; Nicholas Leichter came of age in the ’90s. Think fast, hard, deconstructive. Perhaps influenced by hip-hop or the rapid cuts of MTV, he has become interested in breaking a gesture into a series of little jerked fragments. The dancers in his new No Closer sometimes look almost robotic in their stiffness. They call up laughter or tears as if somebody’s pressed a button on their bellies.
Good Cop, Bad Cop‘s like a wrangle between a whore and her pimp (the wonderful Clare Byrne and Leichter) seen by strobe light, complete with silent yells and staccato assaults. She’s got a ratty fur coat; he appropriates it. But he’s the one who ends reaching up, crying. Life plagued by cursor freeze. In his powerful Animal Leichter goes further, turning gestures and facial expressions into a flicker of non sequiturs; a nervous man on the spot, his mind runs so far ahead of his body that voluntary gestures look like hiccups. In this fascinating solo, what could become a gimmick is profoundly disturbing.
There’s more than a touch of irony in Leichter’s pop-culture imagery and his preoccupation with arrested flow. The superheroes of Tightrope (Holly Handman, Lucia Horn, Amy Larimer, and Stephen Williams) mingle kisses with their punching and toppling; somewhere in the big, vital dancing of Anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance gets taken apart. Leichter’s smart, and deploys his dancers with skill. The works do tend to maintain the same tone and degree of tension throughout; this may be a part of the drive that makes them look with it, but it also erodes their power.
San Franciscobased Wendy Rogers calls the 70-minute work she presented at Danspace “makeshift dancing.” Anything but make-do, this ongoing piece recycles and varies ideas Rogers began to explore in 1991. The dancing seems to articulate subtle responses on the part of the performers to environments we never see and inner geographies we can only guess at. The movement grammar falls into neither the punchy nor the tumble-and-bounce modes of much postmodern dance. It can appear delicate or forthright, spiky or soft, jittery or calm, complicated or simple.
John Diaz, Allyson Green, Eric Lorico, John Medina, Jennifer Twilley, and Rogers function as a community, but there’s a minimum of touching. In a duet, Rogers and Diaz’s relationship is as much a matter of fleeting unison or attentiveness to complementary energies as it is of making physical contact. Although in one section the others pick Diaz up and put him down, most of their interactions as they jump and skid and dodge are like those of guards in a goal-less game.
There’s something refreshing about the clarity of the performing and the variety possible within certain limits. When Rogers, in a solo passage to Mahler, closes her eyes, so convincing is the illusion of a private, struggling journey that you accept the gesture without worrying about its place in a possible drama. You don’t wonder why beautiful Green is so attentively reaching upward, or what the silent dialogues are about. Without telling stories, Rogers builds a quiet semblance of life.