Theater archives

Irresistible Invitations


I don’t want to just sit and watch Bill Young’s latest dances. I want to inhabit them—to be part of the tender communities he creates. Even when performers seem threatened, as they do in his 1998 Fault, they are watchful, inquisitive, solicitous; they veer with changes in the wind or a comrade’s emotional turbulence. To join them, you’d have to be beautiful, to wear litheness and capacity for flight as easily as you’d fit into Luis Lara’s wine-colored velvet dresses, pants, and vests. Seated, my body still feels the silky-yet-askew lifts, the tumble of one person over another, the weight that Pedro Osorio must experience when Sarah Gamblin kneels on his chest. I almost know what Kevin Scarpin and Abby Chan smell when they sniff each other’s necks.

Young originally created Fault for the Estonian National Opera Ballet, and, although collaborative work with his own company dancers has affected this version, the piece draws resonance from the tumult in Eastern Europe. When Osorio begins a long ordeal of falling, the other five—including Colleen Thomas and Young—hover, but their outstretched hands always fail to grasp him. In this place, where Lara has hung his panels of garnet and wine patchwork, where Carol Mullins lays shafts of light on the floor, where Mio Morales’s score is pitted with whispers and crashes and distant horns, even unison dancing looks like a community
decision or a shared heritage.

The new Again, Then Soar… also involved input from the dancers (and credits the concept to both Thomas and Young). This process may account for the rich contrasts and the episodic form of both dances. We see this one’s memory, that one’s dream stitched together. I don’t simply admire the dancers as individuals; I wonder about them, fall in love with them. When I first saw Fault, I thought of it as a family album capturing vivid yet mysterious events and ancestors. I feel the same about Again, Then Soar. . . . Its scraps of childhood games seem familiar, yet strange. When Chan is blindfolded, the others (now including Carla Rudiger) tease her delicately—brushing her ankle, tousling her hair, barely touching her with a kiss; instead of being frustrated, she’s so happy to receive all that attention. A video by Olivier Marceny and Kimberly Bartosik makes patterns tremble on filmy white curtains. The dancers’ laughing chases acquire a dark undercurrent: feet running rapidly, dizzyingly through brush. Lara provides bright costumes and Morales another fine, volatile score. The piece is long, but it’s also practically irresistible. I yearn to crawl down that tunnel of legs and fall into those ready arms.

**Two talented young choreographers sharing one of Dance Theater Workshop’s Split Stream programs invite comparisons. Nami Yama-moto and Jean Vitrano are both small women, not conventionally dancerly in looks. Naoka Nagata’s intriguingly cut costumes abet a vision of them as beguiling oddballs. These artists may come on tough, but strength only highlights their vulnerability.

In an evening of solos, both choose at times to challenge the gap between us and them, not just to acknowledge that they know we’re watching, but to make us question how we view them. Vitrano’s luscious, fluid 1997 solo Night Blooming Jasmine, to Debussy’s “Clair de Lune,” could easily seem sentimental, but there’s nothing drifty about her vining arms and tendrilly fingers. And she subtly twines us in with her occasional complicitous glance or slight smile. In Namamoto’s H(a)I, when her arms wheel violently, the dancer looks at us as if to say, “I am not in control here.” Storming the back wall, she gasps out, “Don’t listen to me; watch me!” Then: “Don’t watch me; see me!” Just as her taped voice riffs on “Hi” and “Hai” (yes in Japanese), her movements come in bursts, repeat and repeat, dwindle through exhaustion; leaping, she might be grabbing for the golden ring on a perilously accelerating merry-go-round.

Namamoto’s a human projectile—not a sleek rocket, but a compact ball of energy. When she’s not stopped dead, staring at us, she’s hurtling through space. In Right/Left, inspired by a Japanese radio broadcast of the 1936 Olympics’ 100-meter breaststroke, she drives herself through a barrage of fanciful competitive events, fueled by wild live jazz played by the four-man Test. Vitrano, in contrast, emphasizes suppleness. Her fingers curl and uncurl, her arms gather air and relinquish it. Her tumbles are soft, almost voluptuous. The lovely 1998 ConfoundingGrace, like Night Blooming Jasmine, uses its music (in this case Peteris Vasks’s “Cantabile”) sensitively. In her new Love’s Body, Schubert piano melodies fade in and out of two pop songs; Bob Harris sings of ruinous deaths (“Kennedy and Jesse James, Joan of Arc and Kurt Cobain”). Vitrano introduces traces of pantomime here, and her hands, which began by forming a lotus or butterfly, end up, pinpointed by Jay Ryan’s fine lighting, as a knot. The structure of this solo seems more rambling and the meaning more elusive, but it’s still fascinating.

Also intriguing is Trace, composed by Namamoto for Mollie O’Brien in collaboration with the performer. O’Brien, a tall and elegantly resilient dancer, begins standing before us, slowly turning her head from side to side; an old injury drags at one half of her face. As we learn her two aspects, she increases speed until they blur and become one. The piece is shaped like a journey, with obstacles, pauses for contemplation, and sudden daring. In challenging our perception of O’Brien, she and Namamoto make her voyage ours.