Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Kelley Donovan dances away with the ICA

Kelley Donovan & Dancers.
Last weekend, the dance community assembled for what many hoped would be a break-out evening for the local scene: thanks to World Music/CRASHArts, three Boston-based choreographers - Caitlin Corbett, Daniel McCusker, and Kelley Donovan - got to strut their stuff in a program of premieres in a high-profile space, the ICA Theater.

But alas, not all these players seemed ready for prime time, at least not this particular evening. There was one star in evidence, Kelley Donovan, but another, Caitlin Corbett, seemed to still be waiting in the wings, while Daniel McCusker wandered around outside the theatre.

This despite (or maybe because of?) the fact that McCusker is perhaps the most thoughtful, or at least the most intellectual, of the three. But this local choreographic light seemed to have lost his way into some navel-gazing universe of his own with hidden noise (note the ee-cummings capitalization), which draws its name from a famous experiment by Marcel Duchamp in which the artist asked a collector to add a "hidden noise" to one of his readymades.

McCusker has taken this (rightly) as an intriguing meditation on the issue of all collaboration. And even more intriguingly, he has responded to Duchamp by stripping away most of the accoutrements of collaboration from his work - even the music is gone (that's right, there's no "hidden noise" in hidden noise). Moreover, McCusker works with a devoted group of nice, amateur dancers (of pleasingly different ages and shapes) who clearly don't have anything in the way of technical chops. So he has denuded his work of both music and even "dance" - or at least virtuosic dance; a brave step indeed. But to be blunt, his choreography needs collaborators, even though it often displays a certain gently gnomic wit. (Of course if that was his point, then he definitely succeeded!) Hidden noise amounts to little more than an elegant, but repetitive, lattice of little social motions - folks lie down together, and look at the sky, or hop in place - small, pointless "collaborations" that wear out their welcome long before the piece is over. (After all, you can take in most of what Marcel Duchamp has to say in about 2 minutes, not 20.) By the end of hidden noise you're tired of its whole sweetly forgiving, process-driven, nonjudgmental atmosphere, and just want somebody to get out there and dance, dammit.

Luckily, there was also a stronger piece from McCusker on the program, Indian Summer, from 2000, to show what he can really do.  This proved a sweet, sad little meditation on bohemian connection and disconnection (again with the collaboration!), danced with quiet authority by Alyza Del Pan-Manley. Here "found" sounds broke up a lovely tone poem by Chris Eastburn (we kept hearing someone discuss someone else's actions as "an anomaly . . . what does it mean in the context of now?") to conjure a touching sense of emotional dislocation. So my advice is: stick with the music (or the "hidden noise").

The program was on generally stronger ground with Caitlin Corbett, who likewise brought a large premiere, no obvious poetry, either (with more ee-cummings-style punctuation), and a better, older piece, Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viva. When I've seen Corbett in the past, I've found her smaller, character-driven vignettes quite a bit stronger than her large, abstract pattern-dances, but these pieces were both of the latter category. The dancers were more comfortable in the second, more familiar, piece, which boasted a more evocative movement vocabulary, too. I confess I'm not much into this kind of thing, though; I like layers of narrative and drama streaked through my abstraction. And in this mode, Corbett seems to me to be basically sipping on chai while day-dreaming about breaking up with some guy, or "running with the wolves," or something like that; it's therapy disguised as abstraction. Of course if that's your cup of chai, by all means enjoy. Corbett is certainly a real talent, and always has a subtle sense of proportion and dynamic, although her company isn't quite strong enough technically to bring that subtlety to full fruition.

With the arrival of Kelley Donovan and Dancers (at top), however, the technical level of the evening jumped several notches - perhaps largely due to the presence onstage of the choreographer herself. Ms. Donovan is, as they say, a plus-size dancer - but then so was Mark Morris; and she, like Morris, is also a mysteriously great one. She brought a weirdly hypnotic (and quite erotic) power to the solos in her piece, Age of Unraveling, which made the sequences - often set to burbling sounds of electronic breakdown - strangely transfixing. And in general the dance, which was performed by an agile and committed crew of young women, was excitingly dynamic; but to be honest, it's so dense that thematically it's a bit of a blur, at least on first viewing. The piece is more about uncoiling than unraveling, I think - there's a sexual drive to it that's unmistakable. But it's a little long, its goals seem obscure, and it doesn't so much develop as repeat itself. Still, Ms. Donovan is the real thing; a genuine choreographic voice, with an obvious command of her own vocabulary. She could do great things. And at any rate, it was wonderful to see somebody in this program finally just dance, dammit.

1 comment:

  1. Hey, thanks I just saw this. come see our latest work June 10-12th fort point channel Boston.