Theater archives

They’ve Got Rhythm


On MTV, singers purr and snarl their sexuality. Nothing abashes them; even damaged by love, they expect—no, deserve—our desire. Nicholas Leichter borrows that confrontational stance, just as he flirts with street dance and hip-hop bravado, but he subverts them all with questions about racial and cultural stereotypes.

In solos like his new B.A.P. (Black American Psycho), he seems to be shattering—struggling to define his image even as he demolishes it. When Mary J. Blige starts to wail, Leichter jerks on the floor like a swatted bug. His gestures smack and snatch at air; his exaggerated facial expressions rearrange themselves every second. “I take what I want” wars with “Fuck it all!” Recostumed onstage by a bored Clare Byrne, he hits bottom—staggering around in a fur coat and cowboy hat, waving a bottle and releasing the smell of beer into the tiny Flea Theater, where his company will be on view through July 1.

In a funny film by Amy Larimer and Paul Sullivan, Leichter tackles a coming-apart dance group. His wonderful performers—Byrne, Daniel Clifton, Holly Handman, Justin Jones, Amy Larimer, and Will Rawls—take on dysfunctional personae that make company life a nightmare. Brian McCormick, as Leichter’s shrink, attempts to cure the disorders (Byrne carries socks around, never thinking to put them on her feet), but the backsliding is fearsome. In the end, Leichter congratulates his great ensemble; the camera pans down to reveal rabbits hopping around his feet.

Clothes can be metaphors. In a revised version of the 1999 Worth, when the dancers, posturing in skimpy black slips, strip to white underwear, the discarded clothes snarl around their feet and impede their progress. And in Undertow (2000), to music by Björk, the four men wear gender-ambiguous black jackets and long skirts to scrabble their way into caterpillar lines. Rawls, braced and standing, struggles to roll Jones up his body. It’s as if these men are being sucked together and washed ashore.

Throughout the fine new Free the Angels, the dancers stay close even as they rocket around in black-and-white outfits by Olu-Orandava Mumford. Erik C. Bruce’s lighting has the punch of club effects. Stevie Wonder singing those old pop tunes pulls people into couples and trios. They dive and connect and tangle as if by contagion or sheer proximity. Elation and anger bed down together. Yet the dancers seem always cognizant, human, vibrantly individual. Leichter allows them to reveal themselves.

If you pricked Sean Curran with a pin, a steam of rhythms might escape his body. In dramatic solos he shows how embarrassment or puzzlement disrupts the body’s usual tempi. In the mesmerizing pure dance piece Symbolic Logic, his sense of timing, as well as his eye for design, braids variety into serenity. In three pieces premiered at the Joyce last week as a percussion suite, he really goes on a rhythm spree, aided by four terrific musicians. This is the Curran raised in Irish step dancing, the Curran who graced Stomp for several years.

Tigger Benford masterminded the music for all three pieces. Lighting designer Philip W. Sandström and visual designer Mark Randall collaborated to produce three broad paths across the floor and two across the backdrop, which change color between and within dances.

In Metal Garden, Benford labors in a sonorous jungle of percussion instruments, while co-composer Peter Jones plays prepared piano. Wearing handsome metallic costumes, eight dancers ring changes on the image of moving lines. They try out different walks. A jogging clump breaks into perky processions. Duets emerge from an ongoing dance, each new partner feeding in as an old one slips away. I like watching the human differences: tall Kevin Scarpin, short and solid Peter Kalivas, liquid Tony Guglietti, Heather Waldon-Arnold of the elegant legs, small Marisa Demos, the voluptuous mover Donna Scro Gentile. While six dancers (in three gender-blind couples) take turns slowly forming circles for their partners to slide through, Curran walks past carrying a watering can, a spade, a fake deer. Tending his beguiling garden.

Quadrabox Redux, created by Benford and Martha Partridge, ignites the audience. The pair plus Marty Beller and Curran cluster on four red boxes, creating rapid rhythms by clapping, slapping, stamping, and hitting the boxes. When they twist side to side to slap one another’s hands, their turning heads reinforce the engaging camaraderie. Partridge and Curran jump up to patty-cake. The four change places. Three form a backup section while Benford pushes his box forward to solo as a seated virtuoso of syncopation.

Benford, Partridge, and Beller all play percussion for Abstract Concrete, while Curran and his brightly costumed dancers engage in further smart, occasionally arch games with lines, although in this dance there’s more diversity and spatial freedom. Curran, as usual, practices high-definition choreography; nothing blurs or flies off. Yet the same warmth he displays during the bow, when he acknowledges the contributions of injured Amy Brous, infuses his works. These are companionable dances—sensual but not erotic. Pattern-parties. We’re lucky to have been invited.

Ballet fans love to attend the School of American Ballet’s annual workshop performances—whether to pick future stars or to see ballets fastidiously rehearsed and fervently performed. Like the Fairy Variations in Sleeping Beauty, the solos of Divertimento 15 (knowingly staged by Suki Schorer) showcase dancers, but because the music is Mozart and the choreographer Balanchine, they are full of luminous complications. Among the high points: Randi Ostek’s firm, darting dancing; small, merry Megan Fairchild’s speed and precision; and Lucien Postlewaite and Christian Tworzyanski’s elegant presentation of the theme.

The pas de six and tarantella from August Bournonville’s Napoli also display dancers in charming, more demure solos and a celebration. Nikolaj Hübbe, reared on the ballet in Denmark, brings out in his staging the swift, springy Bournonvillian feet, the generous port de bras, the bounding jumps. Austin Laurent, Ashley Knapp, Annabelle Wylie, Allen Peiffer, Zoe Zien, and David Blumenfield performed with particular distinction.

The program also featured a premiere, Telemann Overture Suite in E Minor. This is an accomplished ballet by Melissa Barak, a member of New York City Ballet’s corps who’s slated to create a piece for the company next season. Barak occasionally crams in too much, but she has an innate sense of what steps suit what music, and she plays engaging games with contrasting linked trios that seem like bright conversations among friends. The soloists, Carly Sebouhian and Emily Hendrickson, danced excellently. All in all, a formidable bunch of teenagers.