Theater archives

Angels at Work


Choreographer Jeremy Laverdure took a 20-minute peek at a cool, unearthly realm in All the Faithfully Departed, performed by his “dance enterprise,” bêsto perfekto. Star-shaped balloons stretched across Here’s performance space, their golden gleam casting ghostly wisps of light that danced against the backdrop. Four women—Melissa Arra, Lindsay Mackay Ashmun, Tracy Dickson, and Isadora Wolfe—moved in varying configurations or sometimes splayed on the floor like discarded, upended dolls. Two wild-haired ones appeared to be angelic lab technicians. Eventually they exchanged their button-down white jackets for opalescent tops. All this pristine shimmer—along with a sound score of fragmented music and dry metaphysical musings—was laid over soothing, handsomely performed if largely inscrutable choreography. Publicity promised alien abductions, as well as “the rapture, neurological disorders, spiritual ecstasy and man’s search for meaning,” but I saw nothing more fraught than a few hints of coercion and resistance—dancers gripping the wrists of other dancers hovering in potential menace.

There was far more rapture to be had at “This Woman’s Work: Black Women Choreographers of the Next Generation,” which just completed its second annual season. (The first played at the Cunningham Studio in 2003; the next should arrive in 2007.) Kudos to cofounders Bridget L. Moore and Princess Mhoon Cooper for assuring that emerging black women dancemakers get the kind of showcase and recognition their talents and diligence deserve. Male choreographers and company directors receive a disproportionate share of funding and presentation opportunities—bad news for up-and-coming women artists of any race. For the indefatigable Moore and Cooper, “Do for self” is clearly the smart move. Accordingly, these curators gathered artists who have worked with acclaimed troupes—Urban Bush Women, Rennie Harris Puremovement, and Ronald K. Brown/EVIDENCE, for instance—and put together a busting-at-the-seams omnibus show.

In the opening, This Woman’s Work (Part II), five of the six choreographers danced their calling cards. Hope Boykin—the powerful sprite who lit up Philadanco
and now graces Ailey’s main troupe— exquisitely wriggled and spun. Cooper
proved to be a stealth fighter, equally at home with hip-hop moves and Middle Eastern floorwork. Moore swirled in tight spirals, flinging her arms to the winds. Shani Nwando Ikerioha Collins swept her outstretched limbs around the stage as if boldly taking its measure. Camille A. Brown, displaying warrior attitude, pushed muscular West African isolations to the limit, drawing impetuous cries from the audience. These solos offered a taste of things to come.

Boykin’s Shades of . . . supported solos
set to songs by Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Peggy Lee, and Etta James. Like these varying voices, the four dances—featuring Tina Williams, Rosalyn Reshauteurs, Roxanne Lyst, and Dwana A. Smallwood—were each uniquely expressive, sometimes strained taut for effect. But the sweet spot was the slow-swaying, infolding, and yearning “At Last”—Smallwood’s quietly triumphant moment. A modest sketch, delivered with sensitive timing, this solo modeled, for all dancemakers with a tendency to over- indulge, how less (movement) can be more.

Ursula Payne’s performance of her intriguing, rigorous solo
Invisible Dialogues reminded me of a Congolese nkisi
figure—a fetish often fashioned of wood, wrapped in cloth, and decorated with shells or beads or studded all over with nails like hideous porcupine quills. It’s said to pack big trouble for the unlucky. Payne’s billowing black skirt, clunky jazz shoes, churning arms, serious demeanor, and obsessive, ritualistic maneuvers suggested a life-size nkisi in action.

In Moore’s clever Love Tangos, a cocky stud out on the town proved no match for a bevy of beauties in various sexy, ultimately punishing encounters. He was regularly rebuffed by his spirited partners—each character drawn with idiosyncratic movement details. It’s hot, irresistible entertainment—like Ailey’s Blues Suite updated—choreographed and danced with exactitude by women who ain’t playin’ around.

The sound score for Cooper’s B-Girl Blues: Demise of a Femme Fatale contained this admiring lyric: “Light as a rock/It’s explainin’/How heavy the lady is.” The dance itself—in which a brooding, cultish chorus of women in black robes (looking way too much like burkas) encircle, spiritually cleanse, and save a stripper from a life of degradation—had less staying power.

Singer Jill Scott’s gorgeous “Sweet Justice”—only one of four musical resources for Collins’s Goddess Subdued—drew all of the dance’s action, energy, and meaning around itself. Four dancers sometimes related to one another with hostility, but the song intimated that anger could be re-directed outward toward conditions that make women see one another as threats. Tough, grounded, and spiritual—with sumptuous performances—this piece could be the kin of works by Ronald K. Brown.

Camille A. Brown’s Shelter of Presence—crafted for a male ensemble, and here performed by eight energetic, beautiful women—brought up the rear, two hours into the evening when movement information overload had already set in. Looking at this new array of performers, I wished for a program with limits—fewer dances and dancers, and the chance to get to know each deeply and well.

Opening night drew a supportive, mainly black audience. Let’s hope future presentations land in venues with a broad demographic base and receive wide promotion. “This Woman’s Work” is for everyone.