Thursday, May 14, 2015

First home season for the Gibney Dance Company

Amy Miller and Brandon Welch
in The Short-Cut by Hilary Easton
(photo: Alex Escalante)

Choreographer Gina Gibney took a moment to reassure fans that "I'm not going anywhere" as her Gibney Dance Company launched its first downtown home season as a showcase for two other artists. Work by Women, running now at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, is an act of stepping back to help other talented women step forward. The shared program features just two works, neither by Gibney. There's a commissioned premiere from Amy Miller, the company's Associate Artistic Director and its most fascinating dancer, as well as a revival from colleague Hilary Easton.

It plays out in the center's modest and compact Studio C, which I'm coming to prefer to the broad, more complicated space of Gibney's theater. Studio C helps me--and maybe choreographers, too--focus more on the dance matters at hand.

In both works, this compression of space nicely crops and foregrounds the luster and dynamism of Gibney's five-member ensemble--Natsuki Arai, Javier Baca, Jennifer McQuiston Lott, Miller and newcomer Brandon Welch. This is a tight, intuitive crew--Gibney trains for interrelationship--which appears to have folded Welch into its mix with ease.

Peter Swendsen's music opens Miller's Still and Still Moving with somewhat harsh, reverberating string notes that shoot Miller and Welch into the space. Slender and spongey, the dancers twist and bend and oscillate. Miller is her usual articulate, quicksilver self, but Welch is no slouch. A clean, limber mover, he will, on occasion, grip her to his torso and swing her around or catch and hook her to himself by one arm. When Arai, Baca and Lott spill into the space, the group repeatedly clusters then unfurls along discrete patches of space, dipping low then arching high. One notices an interesting detail: connections, hand to hand, and exchanges often performed with the efficiency of circus performers whose lives depend upon that sort of thing, being safe while looking good. Images pass very quickly.

A dancer--Arai, for instance--might slip out a few paces to solo a bit while a trio stands just north of her, as her frame. They've got her back.

Miller's images and energies offer a subtle synesthesia with the visual sense triggering simultaneous experience of the sonic. When the word "synesthesia" popped into my mind, it opened up the entire dance. I started to see how dancers ring themselves like massive church bells, arms pulling their own cables and metal shivering and tolling in wider and wider circles of sound.

Easton's The Short-Cut, an hour-long ensemble piece, premiered at Danspace Project in 2005. In the half-hour excerpt for Gibney, actor Steven Rattazzi reprises his original role as an efficiency expert studying and timing the five busy dancers. Perhaps appropriately, his first subject of analysis is Miller--the sharp flicks of her legs, her twirls and flares, gradually streamlined into a model worker bee's routine. "That's the beauty of efficiency," says Rattazzi. "No one has to think."

"In the past, man came first. In the future, it is the system that must take precedence," Rattazzi declares from writer Helen Schulman's text. For Easton, though, the system seems quite vulnerable to everything human--confusion, orneriness, competition, irrepressible sense of fun. The audience's favorite parts of The Short-Cut happen when things go against plan--an often amusing and rather healthy state of affairs.

Work by Women continues each evening through Saturday at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (entrance at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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