Friday, December 2, 2016

Works by Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e, Caleb Teicher and Company at Gibney

Last night, at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center, curator David Parker introduced his Double Plus evening as "a utopian event" and "not an ordinary combination of artists." Here we have Dylan Crossman (Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e), with his elite Cunningham/post-Cunningham pedigree. And then there's Caleb Teicher (Caleb Teicher and Company), a young Bessie-winning prince of tap collaborating with swing dance champion Nathan Bugh. Combining these disparate sensibilities and styles into one show is far from your everday New York programming. But what makes sense to Parker is that these artists take what we've come to expect from their respective art forms and ask more of them.

But first, Crossman asks something of us. The opening of [Insert Title] makes us crane our necks to see him and three fellow dancers--Sumi Clements, Jason Collins and Sarah Harrmann--lined up off to the far right of Gibney's theater space in light that both catches their flesh and surrounds it in murk. It's a theatrical attention-getter, though beyond that effect, its purpose remains unclear. When the dancers soon swarm into the central space directly in front of us, there's nothing reserved or shadowy about them. Squatting, lunging, cantilevering, they readily take the measure of a space now theirs to inhabit.

I'd been contemplating Lois Weaver's Long Table discussion format and had just watched Antonia's Line, the 1995 Dutch film where scenes of a dinner table teeming with various and sundry characters served as Weaver's inspiration. So I was amused to see a long table set up behind Crossman and his dancers. Dark, plain, bare and sturdy, it seemed to represent home or, at least, a base to touch, slouch upon, back up against, even mount and dance across in the encounters and confrontations that would ensue as a muddy audio recording--a speaking voice run backwards?--rambled on unhelpfully.

Left-right: Sumi Clements, Sarah Harrmann and Jason Collins
in Dylan Crossman's [Insert Title]
(photo: Scott Shaw)

This long table is the one constant in a variation of interpersonal arrangements. Encircling it, dancers move right up into or back away from one another's personal space. They gaze into one another's eyes as we both project what we think is happening and shy away from those projections. In fact, our own back-and-forth can render us watchers transparent to ourselves. We see ourselves seeing something that might or might not be there. And doesn't that feel odd? Shouldn't we mind our business? Well, if we should mind our business, what are we doing at a dance concert watching bodies in motion?

Well, Crossman and crew, especially feline Clements, are adroit postmodern movers. They master clean form while suggesting human narrative when bodies are in proximity to other bodies.

Meet Ella, then, makes the perfect follow-up--all about two male bodies in near-constant and joyous proximity, along for the swooping, sliding fun ride of recordings of Ella Fitzgerald singing live. And, yes, as a friend noted, the late great jazz vocalist gets a bio in the program notes. Rightly so. Her agile voice--with all its daredevil technique, its silky warmth and delectable playfulness--is an essential and equal partner here, in high form, as are Teicher and Bugh.

I had only ever seen the mercurial Teicher tap dance, a wonderful thing in itself. I had never seen Bugh; Meet Ella was my introduction to this lighthearted charmer. The two men, wearing regular two-toned oxford shoes, not tap shoes, make nonstop rhythmic "music" throughout their bodies. Swing dance, jitterbug, ballroom, even dashes of Nicholas Brothers virtuosity flow though the duet, powered by standards like "Our Love is Here to Stay," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love" and--so lusciously--the Lionel Hampton/Sonny Burke/Johnny Mercer "Midnight Sun."

Was there such a night?
It's still a thrill I don't quite believe;
But after you were gone
There was still some stardust on my sleeve!
Nobody sings it like Ella....

Saucy, sexy Meet Ella leaves us with stardust--a great performance and an instant classic.

Dylan Crossman Dans(c)e and Caleb Teicher and Company continue through Saturday with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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