Theater archives

The Uses of Diversity


“Go” is an apt name for the 11-year retrospective that Sarah Skaggs presented at Danspace St. Mark’s in mid June. Skaggs is a going choreographer. She likes feet to stride, scamper, skitter, hop, skip, race. When a piece finishes, you half expect to see the web of paths the dancers have traced light up. The music she favors either pounds out a beat (Chemical Brothers) or swells in a sonorous wash (Balanescu Quartet) for footsteps to punctuate. At her concerts, as in a club, the sound keeps going, one piece segueing into another.

The traveling doesn’t rule out sustained moments, or poses held for a second. Nor does the high-energy choreography focus only on feet. The dancers lash and swing their arms; they make small, precise gestures. They rock their torsos around that stepping base. The amount of variety Skaggs achieves within the parameters she sets is surprising. Her terrific 1990 solo Prelude for Salome, to a mix of sounds featuring a revivalist in full cry, seems to be born from revelation. Skaggs works at control, exact and exacting; her hands put things in their places. But she keeps flying into frenzy with that voice. On the other hand, Melissa Wynn, performing the 1997 Mother, is a serene woman warrior—not running but treading in place, pacing as her shadow lengthens on the wall behind her, advancing and retreating. Wynn’s subtly expressive performing conveys specific danger zones, attacks, moments of doubt; she pulls thoughts and questions out of the air. In the new and longer Moondog Solos, Skaggs, a trim, composed demon, whips herself through a marathon.

Both group works, the 2001 Get Out of the House, Part 1 and The Shaker Dance from Higher Ground (1993), focus on weaving energetic patterns with five dancers. In the earlier work, Eric Dunlap, Jae Gruenke, Jeremy Laverdure, Kathi McGowan, and Brittany Reese coil and unfurl their paths with the sprightly and companionable fervor of the sect that gives the piece its title. In the newer and more complex work, they not only tear around, they grapple in pairs, fall to the floor and do exercises, bow into yoga poses, and squat, hands folded, to scrutinize us.

As counterpoint to the vigor, Reese and Laverdure perform a duet from Paradise (2000) lying on the altar platform like sphinxes. Yet, bathed in the sweet chords of David Byrne’s “Machu Picchu,” they twist to look heavenward even as they nestle against each other or reach out a gentle hand.

Earl Mosley didn’t name his company Diversity of Dance for nothing. Four other choreographers contributed works to the Joyce Soho performance I saw week before last. Mosley aims for variety in his own pieces too. The nine women in Breaths stride in, take flowered frocks off a clothesline, and greet each other warmly. Dressed, they become a vibrant army, goaded by Sweet Honey in the Rock. In 1-2-3, two couples—the vivid, playful Asha Thomas with Clifton Brown and the graver Alenka Cizmesija with Brian Brooks—spell each other dancing to Don Braden and his jazz band. The first boasts strong, hot-blooded dancing, its overuse of unison alleviated by a nice duet for Cizmesija and Nellesa Walthowr and an angry stint on a chair by Tina Bush. In 1-2-3, Mosley is out of step with Braden’s music, the choreography appliquéd over that rhythmic cleverness, not stitched to it.

Mosley scores big with Bon Appetit to Ravel’s interminably escalating Bolero. What a sly, clever piece! Six women in black cocktail dresses are reduced to bringing six men their shirts and pants and waiting on the sidelines with champagne glasses and trays, while the terrific guys push through an ordeal of macho display on chairs. Brown considers giving up; Matthew Rushing’s nudge reminds him of his duty. Mosley’s witty ideas include a parade across lined-up chairs, with each man sticking a foot smartly into a pant leg without breaking strut. By the end they’ve collapsed; the women take over the chairs and toast one another.

The program’s other highlight: a solo made and performed by Camille Brown, a onetime Martha Graham dancer. Brown’s Rhythmic Elaborations balances stringent power with moments softened by doubt or fear. There isn’t a cliché in sight. Dancing to the rhythmic chanting of Indian musician Konnakkol, Brown reveals an arresting individuality as both choreographer and performer.

Brian Brooks contributed an often persuasive angry-women dance for five (including the dynamic Angela Reid), Benoit-Swan Pouffer sensitively showcased Mosley and Lynn Barre as a tender Adam and Eve in a hostile environment, and Max Luna III created The Hurt We Embrace for Kevin Predmore and Virginie Victoire Moore. The title says it all.

Richard Daniels trained as a pianist. You might have guessed that from his solo dance concerts at the Flea. His sensitive accompanist, Steven L. Kantor, opens the evening by playing Paula Kimper’s Three Waltzes à la Chopin, and the new Thirteen Anniversaries shows Daniels’s musicality as a dancer and choreographer. He has set the brief solos to some of Leonard Bernstein’s pungent, seldom played “gifts” to friends on special occasions.

Daniels, who returned to performing in 1995 after a 15-year absence, has a craggy face with a noble profile and a body that emphasizes strength and clarity rather than flexibility. He performs the solos gravely and with great sensitivity—almost as if he were haunted by the music, dreaming it. He celebrates Bernstein’s fast-paced jazzy tone with leaps and grabs at the air, and executes big thrusting gestures when the composer turns to histrionics. But I’m oversimplifying; Daniels’s responses are always nuanced.

He finds many ways to create gentle variety. He removes the jacket Caroline O’Brien has designed, later the pants. Clifton Taylor’s fine lighting alters the mood. Sometimes Daniels visits the piano, hanging over it, listening to Kantor. To a piece that begins with Copland-esque chords, he stops to play a few notes of the top part, and he ends sitting on the floor, leaning his head back against the musician, as if the two were fusing.

For Uncharted, choreographed by Daniels for the magnificent Keith Sabado, Kantor plays Schubert’s Impromptu in C Minor, op. 90. Sabado’s dancing has only gotten deeper over time. Daniels has provided variety—mad leaps, unexpected staggers and falls, pensive stridings, moments of opening out, then clenching in. Sabado’s able to do almost anything with his body; what’s gripping is that he seems to see invisible things around him, and makes us sense thoughts flitting through him, transforming him.

Daniels also performed Christopher Gillis’s moving 1993 Landscape, made for Gillis’s sister Margie while he was dying of AIDS. Lest we forget.