DancenOw’s second program at DTW featured 13 works by young choreographers (not all 20-somethings). Disclosure: Five turned out to be former students of mine, one too recently to guarantee a distanced view. So of Jeramy Zimmerman’s away home, I’ll just note that the seven women not only danced, but, as they moved, sang a sweet country hymn (“Hold it close and let it fly . . .”).
It’s always thrilling when dancer and choreography seem to meld deeply and completely. Naoko Kikuchi is a riveting performer, and her Selfmania Lv.4-clover-doesn’t strike a single false note. In her ruched white blouse and layered green skirt, to music credited to “The Guitar Plus Me,” Kikuchi embarked on what seemed like an intense search for something, grasping at air, repeatedly hurling herself (or being hurled) into leaps and tumbles. Once she emitted a squeaky howl, her steps wobbling as if her ankles were melting. Eventually she found what I took to be a four-leaf clover, counted the petals, indicated satisfaction, and cupping her mouth called out “aiee!” A voice echoed hers from the house. On her second call, more people answered. At the third, almost the entire audience shouted back. Kikuchi also performed Render, a solo for dancer and video by MUX (Nicole Wolcott, Bruna DeAraujo, and Andrew Personette), in which projected white lines traced her recumbent form, bound her in strips of light, and in the stunning ending, reduced to a single line and ran across the screen like a scarf being yanked. Kikuchi turned just in time to see it disappear and leave her alone and free.
An excerpt from Fare Well also gave the impression that its creators, Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson, were not performing choreography but uttering it. The two almost never stopped moving, yet their rich, fluid complications of body and limbs seemed anchored to some thoughtful inner process that induced changes in rhythm and intensity. Sometimes the duet, to the deep lazy sounds and melodies of Edmund Mooney’s score, evoked the mating dance of peaceful birds. Many times the two passed each other circuitously, backed up, and came together—thrusting their heads gently heads forward as if to peck or kiss, their faces just grazing before sliding away. Laboring separately at their mesmerizing dancing, they might have been pondering togetherness. In the end, they walked peacefully and tiredly offstage in different directions.
There were some witty moments in Dixie FunLee Shulman’s energetically untidy Mwah-mwah—for instance, when Alberto Denis took his turn to dominate, fruitlessly ordering Kelly Hayes, Carrie Malernee, and Katy Orthwein in Spanish to hoist him this way or that. Comedy founders, however, when performers show us they think they’re funny. Monica Bill Barnes, on the other hand, is adept at setting up a tension between nutty physical behavior and absolute belief in it on the part of the performers. In an excerpt from Thank You and Good Night, to slightly nutty numbers by the Piccola Orchestra, Anna Smith, Beth Bradford, and Deborah Lohse in sparkly dresses attempted to convince us—even coerce us—into finding them wonderful as they tottered about like feral dolls. Deborah Lohse, the looniest and most determinedly smiley, occasionally grabbed a mic to thank us for being there, and Smith, who maintained a hilarious tough and sullen demeanor throughout, thrust a stiff arm in the faces of various spectators, inviting who knew what response. In Laura Peterson’s Security (an excerpt), the fact that Adele Berne, Jennifer Felton, Christopher Hutchings, and Peterson did nothing but scuttle in orderly patterns on all fours—looking, in their hooded black outfits, and red and black striped tights, like windup bees—was in itself very funny. But their apparently purposeless business contrasted cleverly with assorted pop tunes and with a black-and-white film of a corridor (purportedly shot by a security camera) in which their onscreen counterparts managed to break down doors and emerge from various openings without modifying their characteristic mode of navigation.
Megan Brunsvold, Toni Melaas, and Mindy Nelson, wearing Nelson’s creamy costumes with red underpinnings, brought an intensity to the ingenious interlacings of Melissa Briggs’s TRIO part 1. Making elegant use of robust behavior, Briggs captured the tensile beauty of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 2 in a formal statement about contentiousness and dependence. Niall O’Leary and Darrah Carr turned their vibrant and dazzling Irish step dancing into a happy dialogue (with O’Leary also soloing on spoons). In this excerpt from Carr’s Melange 445, the primping, silent body rhythms of a seated trio (Breezy Berryman, Kelly Hayes, and Cara Surico) didn’t quite make the point that may be evident in the complete work.
Tense, braced against the doom lurking in the sound score, the 10 black-clad women in Daniel Charon’s Anyone on the World formed dark-toned choral patterns on the floor or grouped together in sorrowing plastiques. The work seemed slightly underchoreographed—women waiting with no apparent intent until it was their turn to move again. Charon’s piece, however, had a clarity Shanti Wargo’s lacked. Perhaps her Mind Games was about race. The music was Duke Ellington’s La Plus Belle Africaine, and the piece pitted an African American woman (Renuka Hines) in a white slip against three white women in black dresses and a mysterious man (Ronnie Gensler). Despite the heavily emotional atmosphere, what any of them wanted changed confusingly from moment to moment.
In Christopher K. Morgan’s Mending Wall, pounding original music by MonstaH Black, manipulated onstage by the performer-composer, set up a disco atmosphere that melded oddly with Morgan’s pointed use of Robert Frost’s eponymous poem and with the high point of the piece: a frantic and touchingly funny monologue by Miguel Angel Estefan, Jr. (an angry response to being questioned by one of the other five) that included the memorable line, “My grandmother is my best roommate.” Take these disparate strands along with some chairs, costume drapes that became bonds, and music that drowned the repeated words about what walls between people could mean, and you have a piece to turn viewers’ brains to jelly.