Having just typed the above, I’m ready to start being picky. (Full disclosure – I am currently enrolled in a course on editing the written word.) First, there is the nonsensical use of a colon in Post:Ballet, or perhaps it’s just a pretentious graphics touch. Next, the British spelling of Colouring, the dropping of the ‘s’ at the end of Seven, and the missing capitalisation in the fourth title. When in doubt, I suppose I should simply ask why. The climate of slick marketing and clever branding makes me want to take a vacation from elaborate explanations about the artistic process and the word innovation (the use of which usually indicates a lack thereof.) And yes, sometimes I find being a dance critic frustrating because the one ingredient that should be the most important – choreography – is often the weakest part of a performance. Frequently I watch excellent dancers, moving to decent music through striking visual designs, yet they aren’t given a movement score to match the collective talents on display.
When in Doubt (excerpts)
My dance viewing these past two weeks only confirms this problem. At least the five-year-old Post:Ballet knows how to seduce the audience. With blown-up photos of nude dancers in the lobby and small ones sprinkled throughout the printed program, it’s hardly surprising that the title of the evening is “Four Plays.” A pity the evening doesn’t end with a memorable climax. Artistic Director and choreographer Robert Dekkers has a roster of very fine dancers: Aidan DeYoung, Jane Hope Rehm and Christian Squires, courtesy of Smuin Ballet; Ricardo Zayas of LINES Ballet; Jessica Collado of Houston Ballet; Domenico Luciano of Dominic Walsh Dance Theater; Jackie McConnell of Company C Contemporary Ballet; Raychel Weiner of Ballet Arizona; Ashley Flaner; and trainee Caroline Langner.
Dekkers has some interesting ideas for collaborations with composers, visual artists and set designers, which sound good in the program notes but, at best, they remain embryonic on stage. The choreographer’s craft is in nurturing the seed of inspiration to a fully grown work, not just tossing the seeds to the wind and hoping for the best. There is a lot of watering, pruning and weeding still to be done. In Colouring, an artist doodles with paint and brush across three contiguous panels, while a woman and a man dance in front. The choreography is dance fragments of an accumulation (a musical equivalent is the “Twelve days of Christmas”) that never builds to anything compelling, but it does mirror the doodling behind. The ending is quite well done – the panels separate and move off in different directions as the dancers disappear among them.
I saw Sixes and Seven at an AIDS benefit a few months ago and am happy to watch Squires give another amazing performance. Unfortunately, this time the lighting design, with shin busters in a line across the back of the stage shining into the audience, detracts from the powerful dancing. The use of Knee Play 5, the final scene from Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, is a bit heavy-handed with all the counting followed by the trite text (at least for me, having seen the entire opera twice last October.)
When in Doubt doesn’t make much impression on me, but expressive, visceral dancing from Zayas does. He makes the movement his own by shaping it in both time and space. The closing ballet, field the present shifts, highlighted the intricate set designs by Robert Gilson and Catherine Caldwell. The massive bundles of rods cascading downward are raised and lowered, defining the space the dancers could occupy. Matthew Pierce’s score for five violins is performed live under his direction and serves its purpose, though it sounds like generic minimalism. Christine Darch’s unflattering costumes with rumpled detailing on the torsos doesn’t help. Dekker’s choreography failed to turn “the complexities of our interconnectedness … the relationships between individual and community, freedom and constraint, finite and infinite” into a comprehensible visual rendering.