Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

April 16, 2015

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago makes periodic stops in Madison. Last night, in preparation for an upcoming Italian tour, the company performed five eclectic works in an almost-full Overture Hall in the Overture Center. HSDC has become a breeding ground for emerging choreographers and of the five dances, two were created by Hubbard Street-bred dance-makers.

The evening opened with Jiri Kylian's Falling Angels, a rhythmic percussive powerhouse dance for eight women. This dance could stand alone, yet it relies on innovative lighting patterns which isolate dancers and heighten suspense. Chock-full of unison movement and never letting up, in sharp boxes of white light, the women gesture sharply, shake their hands like tambourines, drop abruptly into squat positions, and slide across the floor on their bellies slowly propelled by one elbow at a time like injured seals crawling to safety. Soloists break the unison pattern from time to time, traveling in sharp shafts of light, separating themselves from the others. To the pulsing music of Steve Reich, they tug at their simple black unitard costumes, pulling the fabric away and letting it snap back like some strange heartbeat, shifting to different parts of the body—chest, back, stomach. In one striking moment, as a soloist assumes a series of Egyptian-looking profile shapes through a narrow hallway of light downstage, the remaining dancers at the back, pierce another shaft of light with their hands and legs, then withdraw to the dark again as if their limbs are detached, floating in space.

Pacopepepluto is Hubbard Street dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo's contribution to the evening. In three simple, supple solos, scantily clad men ripple through the space to the crooning of Dean Martin. Snippets of humor and the precise articulation of the performers pleases the eye, yet the costuming is arbitrary (flesh colored dance belt), and Cerrudo relies on the music only to move the dance along. Brief glimpses of humor fail to develop, no relationship among the three soloists is revealed, any recognizable repetition to the material is lacking. The dance feels like a string of random, albeit beautifully executed, steps.

In Waxing Moon, former Hubbard Street dancer  Robyn Mineko Williams' piece opens with the striking image of a solitary man sitting on a folding chair. A second man joins and departs, and the lone figure left sitting erupts in a fit of angry gesture. Pounding fists and grabbing head builds to more frantic movement and precarious balances on the wobbly chair. Quickness and stillness alternate as a duet between the men develops, manipulating each other by the head, through smooth lifts and falls. A female figure enters literally coming between the men (a love triangle?). As she is seamlessly lifted and passed between them, a clear relationship among the three evolves. But a final duet between the sitting man and the woman muddies the original relationship, and a beautiful last image of a spinning, horizontal woman seems disconnected from the rest of the dance.

The evening's highlight came from Canadian choreographer, Crystal Pite. Less is more in A Picture of You Falling. Highlighting the mesmerizing virtuosity of solo dancer Jason Hortin, this dance is a five-minute explosion of articulate isolations and impossible contortions of the human body. At once hinging back on his knees, and simultaneously pulsing small sections of his torso, Hortin shifts through illustrations of an abstracted fall. It's as if Pite has taken a series of snapshots of various people in the awkward action of falling, and strung them together in a dance. Hortin in a dark suit coat and pants, flows through these contorted shapes, arresting the movement in unthinkable positions-torso going one direction, limbs going the other. His fits and starts match the compelling sound score mix of text and arrhythmical pulsing sounds with uncanny precision.

Nacho Duato's ritualistic Gnawa closed the program. Dark and slow, a dozen dancers shift lines and pairings, trading positions—first men, then women—to a medley of tribal flute-like music. As a community, they circle in tight proximity to each other with their arms intertwined, the men swing the women forward as if on hinges. The effect is of a giant bell, ringing each time the women's bent knees are hoisted up. Duato accents the strong group work with a faun-like duet. Clad in nude-colored form-fitting costumes, this other-earthly pair literally spring from the group, seamlessly emerging and retreating. Stylistically, their quick level changes and spritely legwork contrast the large group's more deliberate actions. The piece gains a heaviness as dancers align candles across the length of the stage and under dim lighting they ceremoniously shift from lines into a tight group, again interlinked by arms, and again, bell-like, lunging side to side while rolling their heads. 

The piece ends as it began, with the duet couple advancing through the larger group. But by this time, no matter how compelling the image and how energetic the previous duets, dim lighting remains for so long that at the end of the evening, it feels a struggle to keep one's eyes open.   

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Urban Bush Women

February 18, 2015

As part of their 30th anniversary tour, the seven dancers of Urban Bush Women along with pianist, George Caldwell, visited Overture Hall for an evening of three dances in their trademark style, a fusion of African and contemporary dance. Founder, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar contributed two of the works, while former “Bush Woman”, nora chipaumire (who does not capitalize her name) choreographed the other.

Zollar's Hep Hep Sweet Sweet opened the show. The piece blended voiceover text about Zollar's memories of her mother moving from Texas to Kansas City, with live piano accompaniment, prerecorded songs from the jazz era, and live singing from the cast. It became immediately evident that the scale of the empty-feeling Overture Hall detracted from the intimacy and intricacy of this dance. While the six dancers charged into the space with bold sharp movements, jumping, turning, undulating spines, flailing strong arms, even their bright flashy sequined costumes and scat singing vocals could not help them maintain enough energy to reach those scattered among the house. Moments of connection did happen; one dancer dripping silkily over a chair singing a sultry tune about Kansas City; each dancer taking a turn showing her virtuosity through a playful possibly hip-hop-inspired 'dance-off'; the barefoot group creating the impeccable detailed rhythms of a complex tap routine. Loaded with elaborate ideas, but perhaps with an overall concept that was too personal, the dance felt mushy and lost on the big stage.

Walking With Trane, Chapter 2, Zollar's other contribution, featured the full company of seven in homage to the jazz legend, John Coltrane. Caldwell accompanied this piece on a grand piano at the side of the stage, playing his own composition of soulful and passionate jazz. Dancers ran smoothly through the space without much interaction, occasionally breaking into small groups or solos. Reciting bible passages and singing together gave the piece an element of modern spiritual. Loose dark grey and black layered costumes left little room for revealing the articulation of movement. Only flowing fabric was left in the wake of quick torso and arm gestures. Dwarfed again by the scale of the stage, the dancers were further reduced by the oversized costumes. Only Caldwell's impassioned playing held enough interest to fill the room for the duration.

The evening's highlight came in the middle of the program with dark swan choreographed by chipaumire. Striking imagery and well-developed phrasing elevated this dance to unique ground. Despite its minimalist use of space, the dance resonated on a large enough scale to sustain its placement on this vast stage. In an opening image, six dancers clad in mini grass-skirt-looking tutus appear, facing away, shivering with tiny hypnotic movement reminiscent of a water bird shaking its feathers dry. Working in unison as a tight group, the shuddering develops slowly to full body vibrating, as Saint-Saens The Swan plays on repeat. The music shifts to Maria Callas, and later Sam Cooke, as the shuddering subsides and takes on a softer melting quality. Turning as a unit, the group leans gently into one hip, drawing their hands down the front of their underwear-sized shorts, sensually rolling shoulders to the side, and literally flipping the bird. Commenting on and perhaps questioning femininity, and celebrating sexuality and the female body, chipaumire's fearlessness brings acceptance and comfort to those watching, despite that it seems we are witnessing young women burst into puberty before our eyes. The dance is clever and oddly inviting, and helps showcase the virtuosity of the company.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company

February 14, 2015

Over the last 20 years, the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company has made several stops in Madison. The company returned last night to Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theatre to perform three older works to a nearly sold-out enthusiastic house. Accompanied by a live string ensemble comprised of UW-Madison music students, each dance featured the full company of nine athletic and diverse performers.

Spent Days Out Yonder, choreographed by Jones in 2000 (based on a solo made in 1996), created an ethereal atmosphere to a lively Mozart string quartet. Intriguing, meditative, and curious, the dance seems a comment on the power of community and partnership. In soft light, a trio clad in flowing blue pastels and with backs to the audience, circle their arms from the elbows like strange angelic scarecrows. Clearly isolated from each other, the dancers keep to their own personal space. Punctuated by angular arm gesture and wobbly knees, the group shifts and expands. A curious single figure crosses in front of the others moving in silhouette, simple and pedestrian. (This cross along the edge of the stage is a repeated theme in Jones' work.) Two distinct groups become apparent. Supple as water, the dancers evolve to form one group, seamlessly oozing across the space. In pairs, they at last make contact, moving in a new direction touching and supporting one another through gentle fluid lifts.

If Jones' intention is to explore community, Continuous Replay (1977, revised 1991) also reflects that, albeit in a more challenging form. Choreographed by both Jones and his late partner, Arnie Zane, this harsh piece is loaded with repetition yet falls short of much meaning. A lone dancer appears naked (yes, no clothing) in the corner, sharply repeating an accumulation of arm movements. Musicians coupled with a recorded soundtrack randomly accentuate the atmosphere with bits of a few Beethoven string quartets and a sprinkling of contemporary text. As the repetitive naked figure advances across the stage, others (also naked and repetitive) join her in a box of light. The group expands, supplemented by eight students from the UW-Madison Dance Department, and traverses the space in angular unison. Little by little dancers exit and reenter in assembly-line fashion, adding bits of clothing each time—a hat, a bra, pants, etc. until fully clothed. The haphazard sound is echoed by haphazard dancers appearing in counterpoint to the advancing group. First a lone ballet-like figure in the opposite corner, then a male pas de deux draw momentary focus from the group. In a final cross, all 17 dancers fully clad, except for the original soloist who remains in the buff, repeat the angular sequence in unison, shouting indecipherably at the end. Continuous Replay feels arbitrary, disconnected and evokes little more than the spectacle of people gradually putting on clothing.

Somewhat of a signature piece, at 25 years old, Jones' D-Man in the Waters (1989) is still a breath of fresh air. Once it starts, there's no stopping this roller-coaster thriller that demands full commitment and impeccable timing from the dancers. Smiling to the Mendelssohn accompaniment, which nearly proved too much for its young musicians to handle at one point, the nine company dancers evoke images of swimming by playfully diving across the floor on their bellies, one arm outstretched in a freestyle reach, hunching their bodies while a breast-stroking arm propels them sideways, and lifting each other in dolphin positions. Wearing a variety of heavy dark clothing reminiscent of army fatigues, the group shifts and reassembles itself through the space flashing hands stiffly in front of their bodies. Dancers parade on tip-toe, lifting their chests to the sky. Taking flying leaps into each other arms, they catch each other just inches from the floor, and carry each other gently, working as a complex unit. The sense of play is prevalent, as is the power of the group to support the individual. In a final striking image, a group assembles at center to catch a diving dancer in their arms and toss him precariously high into the air. If he started the program with the illusion of angels, Jones ends it with stunning imagery of flight.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Batsheva Dance Company

Live performance always happens within some sort of context, so our response to it can vary depending on such things as where the performance takes place, who is sitting in front of us, what we ate or drank for dinner, or the price of a ticket.

In the case of the Batsheva Dance Company’s recent Chicago appearance, the venue could not have been better. The spectacular Auditorium Theatre is as ornate and gorgeous as any concert hall. Just to enter the lobby is to experience time and gravity through its effect on the wavy uneven mosaic marble floor. (As one usher told me, “I’d hesitate to drop a marble on this floor—there’s no telling where it would end up!”) Since 1889, the building has settled considerably, and this floor has been walked on by many.

Taking in the grandeur of the theatre from a plush wide velvet seat is worth arriving a bit early. But when the show begins 30 minutes later than scheduled, ones perspective is already colored. The mind goes away from the anticipation of the concert to other thoughts---This had better be good since I've been sitting here waiting for a long time. Wow, I paid for 30 minutes of parking that I didn't need. Did they intend for the show to really start at 8pm instead of the 7:30 as advertised and printed on my ticket?

After much shuffling, rhythmic clapping from the audience, latecomer seatings, and much discussion among patrons, the show began.  On display were two dances, a total of 66 minutes worth of choreography.

If one is not familiar with the distinct style of Ohad Naharin's movement invention, the angular detailed precise poses of the dancers at first appears refreshing and unique.  Female duet, B/olereo which Naharin made in 2008 and set to a synthesized interpretation of Ravel’s Bolero, seems more about movement exploration and gesture than anything emotionally meaningful. Intriguing circling of the arms from the elbows while melting into grand pliĆ©, and slick shifting from balletic arabesque to stock still parallel legs, were performed with mesmerizing effect. But this piece lacked a sense of theatrical tension, development of movement and sense of relationship between the two women. They simply existed together on the blank stage. The repetition and structural build in intensity of Ravel’s famous music far outweighed its visual dance counterpart.

Max, a 2007 work, danced by all ten exceptionally strong company members—five male, five female—stayed with Naharin's trademark of angular detailed poses. Throughout the 55-minute work, athletic dancers shifted again quickly from shape to shape like other-worldy mannequins. Set to a score composed and performed by Naharin (listed in the program as Maxim Waratt) the soundscape of Max is a collage of recorded breathing, manipulated raindrops, and deep-voiced repeated reciting the alphabet and numbers 1-10 in Hebrew.

Tight black trunks and dark colored tight-fitting tank tops emphasized the dancers physical detail and articulation.  Harsh pink lighting that dominated the piece, only occasionally broken up by white or green. The bold pink gave the dancers legs a fake, candy look, sometimes drawing focus away from the facial and hand expressions.

Naharin is not afraid to use unison and Max is loaded with it. The dancers propelled themselves through a series of brief sections, one in which they repeatedly ran and painfully flopped down on the floor, got up, ran again, fell again, over and over and over with growing determination. In another, suddenly a lone woman downstage performed a series of fluid leg extension interspersed with finger and hip isolations like an exotic ostrich with fingers for wings. And briefly the group assembled facing upstage as if listening to one of their favorite bands in concert, striking a "rock on" hand gesture and head bopping which drew chuckles from the audience.

Solos, duets, trios and small groups emerged through simple walking transitions, and in a lengthy accumulation section, Naharin chose a range of spatial locations and varied the number of dancers performing, most always in unison. The accumulation became predictable, despite its humorous pelvic thrusts, unique shapes, and athletic level changes.

Much of the unison movement lost its power by the end of the piece. The whole felt like an hour-long run-on sentence, yet Max was saved by a tiny bit of repetition. An opening pose (men balanced in low squat, holding the standing women in a ballroom dance grip) returned near the end, and a recurring wedge of dancers grouped downstage performed a series of quick repetitive hand gestures. (Borrowing from Mark Morris’ Falling Down Stairs, perhaps?) It was in this wedge the dancers finally assembled and, in near assault, harshly chanted a Hebrew song glaring out at the audience. This confrontational ending strangely left the piece feeling unfinished, as if this dance continues to go on somewhere, perhaps constantly, well after the curtain has come down.

Note: If this concert had begun on time, and cost less than a dollar a minute (my own balcony seat cost $75), the concert may have been more satisfying. A different context would no doubt would have evoked a different response. Before leaving, I checked with an usher to be sure that indeed the concert was over. "Yes," he said. "An hour and six minutes."  Too much money for too little dance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Radio and Juliet

A contemporary ballet titled “Radio and Juliet”, as in the Edward Clug choreography for Slovenia’s Ballet Maribor, conjures images of the theatrical Shakespeare classic love story. Clug’s 40-minute dance piece indeed alludes to a theatrical story by way of a large-scale, slow-moving black and white video projection (uncredited in the program). Footage of huge close-ups of a solitary woman in an empty apartment interspersed with brief interludes of men performing flashy edgy gestures, sets up an intriguing story, and evokes questions, building hope that the upcoming dance might answer them. Who is this isolated woman? Juliet? Where is she? Why is she alone? What is her relationship to these men? The music of Radiohead begins to pulse and the live company of dancers enter one by one introducing themselves with a simple walk downstage.

The piece then erupts into full-on energetic dance, exquisitely performed with great precision by seven strong dancers-six men and one woman. Clug’s movement derives clearly from ballet, but he’s evolved a vocabulary of quick angular arm gestures paired with stock still leg positions and stiff slicing torso work. Somehow through this strange mix of movement, he manages to give us glimpses into a story—a fight, lovers meeting, a death. In the beautifully designed fight scene of men spinning and jumping, barely touching each other but with their flailing black suit coats, we sense the violence and danger not through physical contact, but through the speed of movement and the proximity of the men to each other.

Throughout, Clug’s style suits the men best, as we never really see the soft femininity of the Juliet character. She performs the same continuous fast-paced arm gesture/stiff-legged movement, even after she meets her “Romeo”. It feels as if the lack of range in the Radiohead accompaniment has kept Clug from deepening the choreographic texture. When the lovers meet at a masked ball (men wearing surgical face masks covering their noses and mouths), their first kiss happens so quickly and in near darkness, that the moment is diminished. The lovers duet that follows, lacks emotional shift in movement quality, remaining speedy, linear and slashing, rather than reflecting the care, emotion, and perhaps awkwardness that two first-time lovers might express.

A bit later, for the first time, Clug does shift the dynamics, during a solo from which one dancer “dies”, then comes back to life. (This could be the fated Tybalt, although he does not perish by Romeo’s hand.) Here is finally a softening curving of torso and arms, and a completely new emotional expression. This haunting solo comes to a close with the powerful image of the man being lifted limply by three others, held up by his suit coat and pants.

In another lovely moment toward the end, we see the Romeo and Juliet death scene in photographic stillness. In a flash of stark light (no lighting designer listed in the program) Romeo appears upstage holding his sleeping Juliet. In another flash, it’s a fast forward to Juliet center stage holding a limp Romeo, and in a third tableau, Romeo has died, and Juliet prepares to ingest her poison-in this case a sour lemon.

There are clear connections to the classic story. Lovers meet, there is a fight, a masked dance, a marriage, and in the end of the piece, the lovers seem to die. But jarring and confusing choices jolt away from a straight-up contemporary interpretation. Here, the men are all generic (even interchangeable in a wedding processional moment) and it’s not clear who is who, except the Romeo figure. Important theatrical moments are vague, as in the brief first kiss, and the fact that it is in a nearly hidden far upstage corner that an “apothecary” presents Juliet with the deadly lemon. And the absence of anything representing a balcony scene leaves a void in the emotional journey of the central figures. After the lovers meet and dance together, the video returns with an image of a stoic Juliet in a bathtub. Rather than feeling and expressing the joy of having a lover, she seems to want to wash away the experience. What are this Romeo and Juliet going through to be with each other? Where is the conflict that keeps the lovers apart? Clug does not explore these questions, and the result, albeit entertaining, is a missed opportunity to communicate any sense of the basic and strong human desire for love.

NOTE: This particular performance in the Capital Theatre, was marred by starting fifteen minutes late, and allowing numerous latecomers to be seated in the front sections giving those who paid for premium tickets, an obstructed view during several sections of the piece (particularly in the beginning of the love duet). The Overture Center could do it’s patrons a favor by reserving a back row for latecomers in cases when a show does not have an intermission. The hefty ticket price, brief performance (about 30 minutes of actual live dance) and disturbing latecomers unfortunately colored the experience of this program.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Marching into Sunlight

When advertising suggests that a dance concert by two university professors-with excellent support and resources-will be of epic proportions, the expectations are high. In this case, professors Robin Becker of Hofstra University and Jin-Wen Yu of the University of Wisconsin-Madison created dances based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America" by David Maraniss.

These dances were apparently derived from and inspired by the book's topics of the 1967 bombing of Sterling Hall at UW and the Vietnam war--hefty subject matter, which would have been better served in the hands of master choreographers. In this case, a way-too-long performance (clocking in at 2 hours and 30 minutes) came nowhere near expected hype, and to use the word of the audience member next to me, was "offensive".

Becker's piece "Into Sunlight", suffered from dim tiring lighting, designed by Burke Wilmore, and continuous slow sustained movement. The piece began to drag almost immediately, and there were very few moments of relief.

Becker dressed her 15 dancers in 1980's lycra onesies, and for no apparent reason, separated them into two groups--dark clad slow-moving dance company members and lighter clad slow-moving student dancers.

Section after sedate section dragged on and Becker seemed to explore only one emotional side of war---a smooth, nurturing, dated modern dance-looking side. Why she did not explore more of the fire, physicality, and harsh edge to the subject matter, remains a mystery. She clearly had some excellent dancers who would have been up for the task, and the contrast would have enhanced her snail's pace perspective.

To her credit, the piece did have overall compositional structure, and a few highlights. A men's trio, which began as a raw physical fight, evolved into caressing beautifully shifting lifts. And in one duet section, a young man sat stock still as a woman climbed and rolled over him, balanced on him, and in a final moving gesture, placed his arm across her shoulder.

Yu's disappointing "Marching into Sunlight" displayed absolutely no sense of the subject matter whatsoever. His trivial treatment of such a monumental topic felt embarrassing. Painful to watch, Yu seemed to have lost any concept of theatrical form, use of space, and movement invention. Throughout this haphazard dance, the question "why?" constantly surfaced.

In short, with a backdrop of hanging textured fabric on which busy video images were projected, Yu featured a quintet of untrained dancers randomly running around in camouflage pants, executing gymnastic rolls. (Why?) This was followed by a group of young women in lingerie tossing underwear up into the air. (Why?) Then Yu appeared in the piece, clad in suit and tie, descending a rope ladder. (Why?) More of the same continued for way too long, and the women's group appeared again wearing school-girl uniforms and white blouses. (Why?) The group paraded around with plastic army helmets in their hands. (Why?) And the piece concluded with Yu running out onto the stage wearing a baggy white Chinese jacket, and standing on a helmet. (Why?)

It's agonizing dances like this that make audiences scratch their heads, and never return to see modern dance again. Why should they?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kanopy Dance Company

In an evening of four dances, Madison's Kanopy Dance Company forged some new territory and unearthed a few Kanopy relics. The company has been around long enough under the direction of Lisa Andrea Thurrell and Robert E. Cleary to establish a repertoire, and it has been their practice to repeat old dances. In a small dance town like Madison, it can be tiresome to see the same dances year after year and many Madison choreographers suffer this fate by placing quantity of concerts presented over quality. But this time in Kanopy's annual Dark Nights concert, which could have been called "Dark Souls", new dancers tackled lead roles in the old works, and the pieces gained some strength with the new blood. That, combined with the intelligent theatrical Monkey see Monkey do created by guest artists Amit Lahav and Natalie Ayton of Britain's Gecko Theatre Company made for and engaging and diverse evening.

The concert likened a dance sandwich--two end pieces with a couple of tasty things in between. A diet might have worked best here by discarding the top slice of bread in order to savor the inner fixings, and get the most out of the delicious bottom slice of bread--the one you need to hold the whole thing together. That top slice, the opening Ikaros, a premiere choreographed by Cleary, felt weak, cliche and undeveloped. Based on the Daedalus/Icarus myth, a familiar and risk-filled story, Cleary took few risks sticking with straight up ballet vocabulary and rushing through the story. High points had little impact or certainty. The elegant Vivian Tomlinson as Daedalus truly brings a lifetime of knowledge to his performance and he came across best when given the chance to go beyond technical dance steps into human movement motivated by emotion. Tomlinson is a lovely contrast to the young, leggy, and energetic Isaac Robertson as Icarus. At the summit of the story, Icarus flies too close to the sun and falls to his death. Cleary diminishes that moment by having Robertson exit after a series of grand leaps and return limply in another dancers arms, already dead. The death happens quickly, offstage, and without any build up and the epic story ends up feeling like unsatisfying filler.

The tastier midsection of the concert restored a feeling of satiation. Thurrell restaged two older pieces, the 1995 group work Black Angels, and her 1997 trio, The Maw. Chock full of serious imagery and subject matter, intense atonal music, and harsh angular lines, these two dances performed back to back bordered on being almost two heavy to handle all at once. Using the Graham vocabulary and sense of high drama, "Black Angels" featured dancer Meg Johnson as the Queen of Babylon. Strong and clear, Johnson took command immediately, tensing her arms and spreading wide in a second position plie. Half spider, half witch, she fell to the floor and arched backwards staring with piercing eyes and her head upside down. But Thurrell has Johnson remain center for so much of the long dance, that by the end, it seems not much has happened. Of course, plenty has happened. Groups of "lost souls" emulating the flying monkeys from Wizard of Oz, flail and fall about the floor, grappling at Johnson's feet and jumping over each other. And two "white angels" mysteriously appear serenely extending their legs and calmly floating across the stage like ghostly nurses attempting to heal the lost souls. When all is done, Johnson is hoisted up center stage in a moment of predictable climax.

The equally dark The Maw which followed, highlighted the wiry strong Juan Carlos Diaz Velez as another dismal soul. Constricted, Diaz Velez rolled out of his metaphorical skin--a flesh colored fabric wrap--and sprung to life in a series of athletic jumps and turns. His piercing eyes and quick shifts gave the illusion that he might really jump out of his own skin. We could watch him with his clear lines and strong focus forever, but he exits, returns wearing a full-length red velvet robe which hides some of his sleek athleticism, and spends most of the rest of the dance center stage like a male version of Johnson's Queen of Babylon. A mature performer, Diaz Velez captures the anguish of this religious-feeling piece and he's joined through the dance by the equally solid Kerry Parker and Elizabeth Simcock. Thurrell's choreography again uses textbook Graham vocabulary and center stage and after a while, this begins to feel tiresome, despite the strong performers. What does evolve is a careful layering of images of a twisted manipulative love triangle with the women fawning over and controlled by Diaz Velez.

Providing the energy and sustenance of a good carbo-load, Lahav and Ayton's Monkey see Monkey do, the concert finale, combines a brilliant balance of humor and emotion with storytelling and raw physicality leading eleven dancers through a series of dreamlike vignettes. More physical theatre than straight-up dance, text about a missing girl and a scientific method for swapping souls lays the groundwork for duet sequences supported by an eerie undulating ensemble. A couple approaches, desperately holding each other. In their simple slow walk, and the tilt of their heads, the curve of their spines, we recognize the couple who seeks the missing girl. They reach and fall and hold each other up, clinging to hope. Another couple, Cleary and Parker, wrenches hearts as they twist and turn in close proximity to each other. The hunched over Parker, the tormented "bad soul", grabs and screams repeatedly, "help me!" and each time Cleary eagerly tries to help, she pushes him down violently. Simultaneously awful and beautiful, this section is almost unbearable to watch. The ensemble functions as a chorus supporting and manipulating the featured dancers and providing a sense of lightness. In a Busby Berkeley-like section, they encircle the missing girl, then break out in slow motion running into a surreal Rockettes-style kick line. The story evolves with strong visual images and although the movement vocabulary is highly detailed, its pedestrian nature is new to the Graham-trained Kanopy dancers. This rawness is a welcome change and the company embraces it with vigor. Lahav and Ayton chose to primarily keep the dancers within inches each other which brings great power to the moments of spatial separation. They also use the width of the space, keeping the viewer actively turning from side to side as if witnessing some strange tennis match.

Departure from the rigid balletic style of Graham along with the strength and versatility of the Kanopy principal dancers, particularly Diaz Velez, made the serious nature of this concert easier to digest. And a with a delicious piece like Monkey see Monkey do, Kanopy charts new and admirable territory in what will hopefully be a continued course.