Theater archives

Seán Curran and Paradigm: The Sage Age


Seán Curran is no longer a bouncing boy, leading a company of his peers. Wisely, he has decided to limit his performing to solos and focus more on bringing out the individuality of the younger generation of dancers that he choreographs for. His newest work, Force of Circumstance, unlooses six gifted performers in juicy, expansive movements. They catapult into the air, knees bent, like frogs startled from rest; plunge into one-armed handstands; splay into leaps; curl their arms through unresisting air. Coming and going, joining in bright, precise patterns, they also pause to watch one another. Curran has been doing a lot of choreography for operas and plays in recent years, and his zest for theatricality informs many of his dances—even a romp like Force. He lets us appreciate, say, how happily sexy Elizabeth Coker Girõn can be, or the spitfire ease with which Francesca Romo springs into the air. Nora Brickman, Kevin Scarpin, and Girõn stand out in a lively trio. Christopher Antonio William Lancaster’s score is an enormous asset, especially since we can see him tease sounds out of his cello and loop them electronically while he adds new layers.

The gem of the program is Aria/Apology (2005). Curran alternates Handel arias, gorgeously recorded by Renée Fleming, with confessions of guilt collected from Alan Bridge’s project, The Apology Line. Few of the answering-machine voices apologize for the rapes and murders they’ve committed, and their self-justifications contrast stupefyingly with Handel’s ravishing music. That the five dancers wear underwear or nightclothes (by Christina Bullard) makes them appear all the more vulnerable. Curran’s choreography hints at the crimes described, although the arias’ lyrics relate to them only ironically. A man recounts his pleasure in killing gays, and the group encircles, lifts, and drops Scarpin. As he begins his ensuing, outflung solo with a long handstand, Fleming sings “Ombra mai fu” from Serses; lolling in the pleasant shade of a tree is denied this victim. Brickman and Evan Copeland’s sweetly prim duet referencing baroque court dance unwinds and rewinds, while a woman confesses, “I’ve killed a man,” and Fleming launches into the love-besotted Cleopatra’s aria, “V’adoro pupille,” from Giulio Cesare. Two couples mirror each other, with subtle differences, to confessions of adultery and incest, and Armida’s “Lascia ch’io pianga” from Rinaldo transmutes grief into redemptive beauty.

Fire Weather is billed as a work in progress. I’ll be interested to see it when it premieres in November as part of the Guggenheim “Works and Process” series. The title of Charles Wuorinen’s harsh piano score, The Mission of Virgil, has evidently influenced Curran’s choices. Toward the end, the dancers (wearing net panties and jockstraps more revealing than nudity) form sculptural groups that suggest the damned and call to mind the voluptuous agony of artworks such as Michelangelo’s Dying Slave. But throughout, from slumbering or sitting splayed like abandoned dolls, they can suddenly spring into furious motion, as in a long, unstopping solo for Winston Dynamite Brown, in which the choreography and the music seem to be trying to claw each other’s eyes out.

The dancers who appear in Paradigm’s cabaret show are unapologetic about age. As seasoned as upscale wines, they can afford to joke about vanished nimbleness or virtuosity, although no excuses need be made for Michael Blake’s brisées or Martine van Hamel’s lovely, fluent lyricism in a solo this former American Ballet Theatre principal choreographed for herself to a rippling piece by Mendelssohn.

Hope Clark’s opening number, We’re All That and Then Some, doesn’t present these mostly non-Broadway dancers doing what they do best, but they embrace that irony and the clichéd steps with charm. And Valda Setterfield, Dudley Williams, and Gus Solomons jr are certainly not as doddering as they pretend to be in Kay Cummings’s Stayin’ Alive (to the Bee Gees song). The audience laughs from the moment they side-step onto the Leonard Nimoy Thalia Theatre’s tiny stage wearing hospital gowns and using IV stands for support. We know these three stellar performers can do more than tremble stiffly (Williams), play graciously dotty (Setterfield), and grin widely while the memory is clearly in mothballs (Solomons).

Solomons’s Cocktails for Two, to recordings of the inimitable Mabel Mercer, offers four duets—contentious ones for himself and Van Hamel and for Cassandra Phifer and Blake; a self-preoccupied one for Setterfield, Clark, and two hand mirrors; and a poignant one for Williams and Keith Sabado, who never quite meet (while Mercer sings of “all the sad young men”). Carmen de Lavallade’s SRO (Single Room Occupancy) is reminiscent of Anna Sokolow’s great Rooms, but without that depth. It’s a sketch, really—an opportunity for some charismatic performers to delineate character in a few strokes. Chairs stand for the separate rooms in which the choreographer, Blake, Clark, Solomons, and Williams toy with talismanic objects, but the lonely inhabitants suddenly band together to intervene between Solomons and his whisky bottle.

If 3 Scenes From Archy & Mehitabel had been the only number on the program, I wouldn’t have complained. Solomons, as the cockroach alter ego who supposedly pounded out Don Marquis’s famous 1919 newspaper columns, sports a New Yawk accent and plays an engaging, spider-legged foil for de Lavallade’s divine Mehitabel. To appropriate sounds provided by Jane Ira Bloom on her sax, this skin-and-bones old alley cat staggers gamely around, stretches, and preens sensuously. Garbage-can meals and unwanted kittens don’t faze her. The marvelous actress-dancer finds myriad ways to intone the refrain of Mehitabel’s song: “Wotthehell wotthehell/there s a dance in the old dame yet.” (Archy, who wrote by throwing himself onto the typewriter keys, didn’t mess with punctuation or uppercase). Joe Grifasi directed the scene, and de Lavallade and Solomons provided choreography. Let’s hope we’ll see it again when Paradigm performs at Dance Theater Workshop in July.

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