Jennifer Nugent and Paul Matteson are nothing like the sleek couples of ballet who often look as though they’d been bred to channel petty royalty. Nugent is a strong, long-bodied space-eater who moves with a lavish plasticity. Matteson—slim, loose, and wily—can articulate a shoulder, a hip, his head in innumerable slippery ways. He’s syrup; she’s honey.
In Saints Smother Swans, a duet choreographed by Terry Creach, they dance separately for the most part, yet close together, making you notice fleeting congruencies plus shifts in the space between them. Matteson is meditative, as if solving a puzzle that might just be Nugent. They think about taking a walk together, then don’t. She picks him up, then puts him down and slides over his back. Jane Shaw’s soundscape offers heartbeats, piano notes in wind, and more. It’s all rather mysterious.
The solos the two have made for themselves are not at all alike. In Block Idol, Matteson earnestly and hilariously sets himself impossible tasks with a dozen blue Styrofoam bricks—like, can I build two stacks of six, take a deep breath, and vault up to land with one foot on each pile? The one time he tries it, he falls off. Less ambitious configurations topple, too. But after the slightest accomplishment, he spreads his arms, hoping for our approval. In the end, having divested himself of one layer of sweaty clothes and painstakingly collected them and the blocks, he shuffles away, each foot on a block, his body hunched to support his load.
Nugent is more introspective in her Little, to music by Michael Wall. Wearing a short, high-waisted dress, she moves fluidly through variegated steps that seem to emanate from inner changes of thought. She wriggles her fingers, reaches an arm out languidly, then drops it. She runs softly, rotates by hopping, tosses herself from side to side, laughs, fends off what might be mosquitoes—all the while moving with velvety pliancy. This is a woman you think you’d like to get to know.
In Temper Please, to an effective soundscore by Jake Meginsky, Matteson creates a small community of people, whose intersections seem almost accidental, although they’re aware of one another. While Maggie Bennett shuffles her way into a solo, Ana Keilson, Bill Manka, Karl Rogers, and Eva Schmidt watch. They’re often awkward, lashing around on their knees, running stiffly with arms flapping. At one point, they cluster to jump repeatedly and strike a gamut of poses—all different. A terrific performer with a number of companies, Matteson hasn’t done much choreography to date. He’s got something going.