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An abstract body in space: Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.

Retrospective Excellence

By Mae G. Banner

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company

The Egg, May 6

fter 15 years, more than 40 dances·more than 20 of them showcasing the talents of collaborating artists in many disciplines·for all this, Ellen Sinopoli has earned the respect of the community. Her admirers came out to cheer a celebratory concert last Saturday at the Egg that featured a well-made duet from 1991 and two premieres, one with commissioned music by Hilary Tann performed live by bassoon soloist Krassimir J. Ivanov.

Dance isn·t easy. Audiences that flock to movies and rock concerts are often shy of dance, but Sinopoli tempts them with her savvy collaborations with sculptors, poets, and musicians. Saturday·s concert included two works with vivacious music (originally live and now pre-recorded) by percussionist Brian Melick and Spanish guitarist Maria Zemantauski.

Keeping a dance company up to standard isn·t easy, either, because dancers leave and good men, especially, are hard to find. At the 15-year-mark, the four women and (cheers!) two new men show a high polish. Ann Olson, Laura Teeter, Sarah Pingel and Melissa George, all with the company for at least a year, have developed a musicality that invests Sinopoli·s rather dry choreography with a plush quality. They put some meat on the bones.

Having men to work with expands the possibilities, not only physically, but emotionally. Abel Costa and Laura Teeter reprised Dreams (1991), one of Sinopoli·s earliest and best dances, set to music by Arvo Pärt. There was real human contact here as the dancers, who could be lovers or spouses, rolled over and over each other, slowly and softly shifting from their backs to their stomachs, slowly raising their heads and letting them sink back.

Another kind of relationship played out in Vain Endeavors (1999), a clever trio that satirized narcissism, envy, and one-upmanship, with two women trying to attract one man. However, he was more interested in his own reflection and wanted nothing to do with either of them. Torrie Zito·s fiddle music underscored this smart mini-drama.

The premieres showed Sinopoli·s unerring ear for music and her attention to production values. Becoming put the bassoonist at stage right, while tall and lush Pingel shared center stage with a commissioned sculpture by Martin A. Olstad, who works with reflective and translucent materials that, in their movement, present another iteration of dance. Pingel, responding to the forays of Tann·s music, circled Olstad·s sculpture, a Plexiglas shape hung inside a tent-like white veil that looked like a hospital curtain. While the sculpture swung from its wire, a moving light played on it, creating veiled reflections that floated on the curtain. The sculpture added mystery to the dance, but did not distract from the dancer·s movement.

Pingel created curvy shapes with her long arms or balanced on one leg. She would fall, fold, and contract her torso, then rise up from her belly in one elastic move, as if coming out of a cocoon. She was a strong, compelling dancer, but her connection to the sculpture was inconclusive. She touched the curtain, but didn·t enter inside.

Sinopoli chose the recorded music of Zap Mama for Vooz-e-la, the program·s second premiere. The whole company danced to Zap Mama·s multi-lingual, polyrhythmic lilts, often moving in slow motion to the a capella group·s boppy music. One section featured two lively male-female couples, and a juicy duet with happy hips for Pingel and Olson.

The music of Melick and Zemantauski propelled Falling (2003), in which Sinopoli deployed five dancers in academic patterns of two against three, high levels against low, and tranquil passages against exciting ones. Similarly, Segue (2005) set five dancers in a tight line and had them lean forward, backward, to the side, and then bend double together, like one flexible machine. They split into the familiar two against three formation, sliding or leaping to Melick·s imaginative plops and bonks.

Clusters (1995) featured all six beautifully articulate dancers in Sinopoli·s favored vocabulary of falls, rolls, runs, to the delightfully scratchy pizzicato of Franghiz Ali Zadeh. I loved the music, I loved the dancers, but it·s hard for me to warm up to choreography that treats them largely as abstract bodies in space, unrelated to each other. Too often, the dances are all picture, neatly arranged and framed, but with no point.

Sinopoli has mastered all the tools of production and composition. Her dancers are performing at a musical peak. I·m always interested in what comes next.

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