Wally Cardona opens Dance Theater Workshop’s Carnival Series (through May 23) performing an excerpt from José Limón’s The Unsung, a 1971 suite of solos that’s as much Limón’s hymn to marvelous male dancers as an homage to legendary Indian chiefs. Idealism shines through the beautifully shaded images of prowess, wariness, and spiritual openness.
Compare this solo to the one with which Cardona begins his new Open House 01. A harsh little lamp (the stunning lighting’s by Philip W. Sandström) throws his shadow on the back wall. Rooted to one spot, staring at us, Cardona smoothly wrenches his body into curious postures. His arms cinch invisible girths; he seems to swell up. As in other works, he plays against his juicy muscularity and Juilliard training to reflect the perilous distortions of contemporary existence. Early modern dance acknowledged unwholesome states as conquerable adversaries. Cardona locks his dancers into instability as a norm. These ’90s are anything but gay.
In Four Ramonas, the superb dancers (Kimberly Bartosik, Alan Good, Kathryn Sanders, and the choreographer) softly tangle with the air and one another, their arms following their occasional rapt upward gaze as if the old sentimental ditty “Ramona” were a talismanic hymn. Open House is more violent, part of it set to battering techno-pop music. In one section, the four roll and flail as if harried by wind. Duets are challenges for gently twisting, poking limbs. Guest artists assist Cardona in deconstructing his heritage. Christine Dakin of the Graham Company, Benjamin Millepied of New York City Ballet, and ex-Limón dancer Risa Steinberg— one, two, or three per performance— alter the work in various ways (Dakin presides snakily over a stage of fallen bodies).
Cardona devises arresting movement and organizes it suavely in space. If his pieces lose force at times, it’s because he maintains one dynamic tone for long stretches. The fickle eye tires of what once entranced it.