BODYTRAFFIC’s sold out shows at the Broad Stage this weekend were a homecoming of sorts after a summer of concerts at Jacob’s Pillow, The Fire Island Dance Festival, plus recent performances in New York City and San Francisco. But the program didn’t embrace the usual kind of evening for contemporary modern dance. Banished for the most part was the evening- length concept work, cross discipline extravaganzas, and forays into challenging or abrasive subject matter. Instead, co-artistic directors Lillian Rose Barbeito and Tina Finkelman Berkett offered a surprisingly traditional repertory evening of three well defined works by three guest choreographers, Barak Marshall, Kyle Abraham, and Richard Siegal.
The program had a discernible heart in Kyle Abraham’s roiling, slow motion piece “Kollide”. Flanking “Kollide” were Marshall’s episodic, theater dance creation “And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square” and Siegal’s whimsy-saturated, faux jazz suite o2Joy. It is based on vocal and instrumental music from the American song book. In the end there was something for everyone, all of it borne along by an outstanding cast of dancers who both moved and, when required, acted with convincing authority.
Barak Marshall, who has connective tissue linking him with the major players in Israeli modern dance, reprised some of his own prior choreographic territory in “And at midnight..” which is backed by a score of gypsy, Ladino and Yiddish songs, and driving dance music. The movement leans heavily on unison ensemble sections delivering a reconstituted, hyper-athletic sense of folk dance. There is a story, a morality tale laced with both humor and pain that delves into the dangers of obsession and the politics of gender. Marshall has interspersed the dancing with segments of dialogue. Those were delivered awkwardly at center stage by the dancers and didn’t always add clarity or depth. In the end, the dancing and music itself were contextually sufficient to tell a story.
The BODYTRAFFIC women, especially, were accomplished in delivering expressive faces and an intricate gestural world of arm and hand movements. They were haughty and provocative covering the lusty innuendo of the Barry Sisters’ music for Chiribim Chiribom, but also tough minded in standing up to the men who would dominate them if given a chance. Ms Berkett especially broadcast a blistering presence in all three works on Saturday’s performance. “And at midnight” is something of a cultural odyssey. Its dance and theater are artfully blended. The ten dancers take you on a journey over rough terrain before dropping you off at a final community wedding tableau. It’s not so much a resolution as another stop along a difficult road.
Abraham’s Kollide uses a pared down cast of five: two couples and a soloist. The name comes across as something of a misnomer in a work that starts with a slow burn but intentionally never picks up speed. It begins with two, standing dancers pressed against one another in a frontal embrace. It is a point of reference Abraham also used in his duo with City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan in Restless Creature. We sense instinctively that Kollide is about relationships. There is plenty of intimate partnering that avoids gender distinctions. In one section a solo dancer circles (or stalks) the stage while one of the couples dances together. We take it that she is some kind of a relationship predator but on Saturday, that role, danced by Lillian Barbeito, felt underplayed.
Kollide takes place in a moody, dimly lit world. Those effects and the five, oversized back lit panels that hang from the back of the stage were designed by Dan Scully. Near the close of the piece sand (or water) starts to fall though them. There is a sense of disintegration but also recombination. The music by Icelanders Hildur Guðnadóttir and Valgeir Sigurðsson, backed the dancing with electronically generated sounds while avoiding a concrete sense of rhythmic organization. Abraham is a movement omnivore. His signature is a fluid, rolling movement that challenges the dancers to send contractions like shock waves through their bodies. Guzmán Rosado captured that essence spectacularly on Saturday’s performance. Kollide might have been a world premiere for the Broad Stage, but it is also a work likely to continue to evolve.
Closing the program was Richard Siegal’s o2Joy. Others such as Taylor, Smuin and even Balanchine have gone the show biz route with weightier effect. o2Joy could, at times, feel so slight that it might blow away but it makes clever use of some American songbook classics as well as unifying the evening with one last, if untroubled, look at love and relationships. Andrew Wojtal was in his element in the upstage proof, lip synced version of “All of Me” and Miguel Perez delivered beautiful lyrical dancing in the closing, “My One and Only”, set against the filigree of Oscar Peterson’s piano improvisations which closed with a brief fragment of Bach’s chorale tune, Jesu, meine Freude. o2Joy indeed.
(The BODYTRAFFIC dancers in addition to those already mentioned include Melissa Bourkas, Christopher Bordenave, Kalin Marrow, Cooper Neely, and Yusha-Marie Sorzano. The company has been seen in Los Angeles at the Ford Theatre and at the Alex Theater as part of Celebrate Dance 2008. Kyle Abraham is the recent recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. The reviewed performance took place on October 12, 2013.)