Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener, Melissa Toogood and Cori Kresge were all members of the final generation of Merce Cunningham dancers, left at loose ends when the main company and its associated junior ensemble ceased operations at the end of 2011. But one dancer’s loose end is another’s liberation. Toogood has been busy dancing with choreographers all over town; Kresge, too, is teaching and performing. Meanwhile, Mitchell has embarked on his own choreographic adventures, often involving text and projections and various collaborations with other artists. (Riener, Mitchell’s partner in life and art, and an extraordinary dancer, has been featured in all of them.) It’s been difficult to figure out what, exactly, Mitchell has to say as a choreographer, apart from the fact that he wants to get as far away from the rigor of Cunningham as possible. But he’s restless, and that restlessness sometimes produces intriguing results, as it did in 2012 with his work Nox, a collaboration with Anne Carson.
His latest piece, Light Years, for Riener, Toogood, Kriesge and the young Hiroki Ichinose, doesn’t necessarily make his choreographic intentions any more clear. But it is certainly his most coherent work to date, and the most concerned with movement. To be honest, I haven’t the slightest idea what it’s about. That said, I found it quite engrossing. The strange and beautiful lighting by Davison Scandrett – speckled light, hazy orbs, electric sparks – gave the dance a pleasingly interplanetary feel, as if it were taking place outside of time and gravity’s pull. Within this unfamiliar landscape, the four dancers engaged in curious behavior, launching into loping runs and dives and slithering glides. They seemed half-animal, half-extraterrestrial, at times relating to each other, at others orbiting off into their own worlds.
Riener, at first wearing almost nothing, walked in circles around a spot of light on the floor, manipulating his torso in ways that made him look deformed or deranged. Toogood, wearing a palm frond on her back, erupted into a jagged dance, simultaneously wild and perfectly controlled. Kresge was a creature or a sprite, smeared in blue paint, staring at the sky as if expecting some sign from the cosmos. Ichinose, dressed in silver lamé, was both a knight and an astronaut, slithering in the dark and silent void of outer space – until suddenly he spiraled off into a series chaîné turns so fast they made the audience gasp. (The score, by Michael Beharie and Corwin Lamm, consisted of electronic beeps and noises, and the occasional thumping beat.)
None of it made any sense, and yet there were moments of heart-catching beauty, as when Reiner crawled over Ichinose and slid down his back like a swimmer surfing down a wave. Or the image of Kresge spinning in the mottled light, like a wood-nymph under an inky sky. The dancers’ expressions revealed fear, surprise, a kind of ecstatic expectancy, or nothing at all.
The binding factor, besides the gorgeous lighting and the imaginative costumes, was the technical brilliance of the dancers. These are some of the very finest dancers in New York. Everything they do, no matter how wild or unruly or self-consciously outlandish, is imbued with beauty of line, intention, clarity. There’s no fumbling, no visible effort, no murkiness. Their feet, arched and articulate, move quickly and cleanly; their legs trace well-defined arcs through the air; their upper bodies tilt and bend in ways that surprise us.
I may have no idea what these extraterrestrials are up to, but I’m willing to watch.