June 10, 2015
Too often is it the case that artists, self-described as “emotional,” demonstrate non-specific, maudlin melancholy. For Take Root, Thomas/Ortiz Dance and Indah Walsh Dance Company offer intentionally emotional dance with independence and integrity. Thomas/Ortiz takes ownership of recognizable triggers while Walsh, working at a microscopic level, reveals our reactive potential.
Four Temperaments, by Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz, has William Roberson as a certain everyman amidst four color-coded women. Segmentation is tricky. Sharing technical vocabulary, Roberson attempts to segregate. In partnering, whipped limbs connote domestic violence or innocent tangos. Each woman’s method is varied, but disempowering Roberson has all four temperaments in one accord. Though through duets, intimacy becomes a network where confidentiality has dire consequences.
The company espouses clichés. In Thomas’s Speak, Emily Pihlaja interprets more than literally A Great Big World’s lyrics with gestures so word-dependent musicality hasn’t a chance. The same literalism is found in Ortiz’s Conbivir…(living with). Rachel McSween leaves no interpretation to the imagination, holding her breasts in guttural throws of loss.
In questioning the expression’s validity, side effects of obvious choice-making pique interest. The repeated chorus of “Say Something” forces Pihlaja into one gesture phrase always executed intact, revealing the emotional body’s experience. Covering her breasts, McSween fashions publicly performed privacy rather than unveiled secrets. While musicians look to her for cues, the loaded imagery of two music-making men gandering at a half-nude woman remains.
Indah Walsh delivers emotion rather than packaging it. Her choices transcend taste, serving what her works need to thrive. Falling Still uses a Pergolesi duet in which the singers’ lines interlock in downwardly resolving suspensions that sequence upward, building hesitant tension as Jessica Mantell and Christian De Luna-Zuno chug with increasing speed. Cheerleaders at a Wedding uses male soul singers, to whom Walsh’s dancers lip-sync wildly as drag kings within their own gender. Yielding uses Philip Glass’s arpeggios to inspire cyclical movement, capturing not sound, but sonic motion.
Instead of devising emotionally charged action for bodies, Walsh composes her dancers’ personalities, theatricalizing function. Cheerleaders mixes characters like watercolors. Molly McSherry suffers from committed, sly exhaustion. Ho-Ju Wu is stern as a nun. Lauren Kravitz, dimly optimistic, is the last to remain lip-syncing. Mantell is bipolar - a scorned lover and powerless brute as she wipes away tears with middle fingers.
Walsh is a “what-next” choreographer; her pieces catapult forward via baby steps. In Falling Still, Mantell drapes on Zuno’s back, takes a forearm, and shifts it like a joystick, locomoting the partnership. Such simplicity is a different kind of obvious, often unperceived, allowing Cheerleaders to build brick-by-brick. Jane Anthony somersaults in manege. Ten follow in single-file like a toy poodle talent show. Exponentially developing minimal content, the danger of overflowing the space is just what the space needs. It and Yielding, though solemn, share constructions. After finding rest, arms link across backs. While it gauges the Cheerleaders, for Yielding, it closes spatial study with closure and yearning.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews