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Alienation in motion: ASzURe & Artists.

Physical Daring


By Mae G. Banner

ASzURe & Artists

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 2

It’s too soon to guess whether Aszure Barton’s daring and slightly nasty dances will become timeless, but they certainly are of our time. The young Canadian choreographer and her good-looking, sleekly-trained troupe ASzURe & Artists returned to Jacob’s Pillow last week and took up where they left off last summer, with dances that veered from portraits of extreme urban isolation to an elaboration of 2005’s Lascilo Perdere, subtitled “A journey of letting go.”

Isolation, first. Over/Come (2006) and Short-Lived, Movement I (2006) shared a depiction of blasé, but needy individuals alone in the crowd. The full troupe of 10 danced Over/Come, filling the stage of the Doris Duke Theater, which looks like a huge gym floor with the audience on risers. Dressed in voguish sportswear in a palette of red, white, black, and blue denim, each dancer jerked and spasmed in a space of their own to a collage of kitschy pop songs in English, French, or Spanish.

At random moments, a dancer would approach another in a flirty way, maybe even go for a sudden kiss. Whatever the action, the bold one would be rebuffed, or, barring that, she/he would turn on one heel and stride away, before the anticipated rejection came. The attitude throughout was aggressiveness/wariness—the de-meanor of a downtown city street.

One tango-like duet in the dark lasted a few seconds extra, as did a woman’s solo to the ironically titled, Are You Sincere? But, soon enough, it was back to on-their-own moves: defiant, speedy, wrecked, slouching, staring, grappling, all marked by silent screams. At the end, all 10 were flat on their backs, still alone, their diaphragms fluttering.

Short-Lived was set to amazingly beautiful music by the Cracow Klezmer Band, whose instruments included the dumbek, deep-toned fiddles, and a dark horn that was miles from the familiar clarinet. To this tango-like music, a quartet of dancers did sliding steps or rose to a balletic half-toe. There was nothing folky about the music or the dance.

In the main motif, a man lifted another man in front of his body like a puppet. The lifted one tilted his head and joined his palms in prayer, the picture of a Medieval Christ figure. There followed a male solo to Baroque music. The dancer’s torso moved in staccato thrusts, while his arms described lovely flowing figures in the air and his feet moved in small, confined ballet steps.

Barton’s dances emphasized exertion and daring, stretching the dancers to their limits. The audience loved it.

Lascilo Perdere left downtown rejections for the dangerous liaisons of Renaissance France. The ensemble, in elegant black, performed courtly figures with flourishes of pointed toes and fingers, making calligraphic serifs with a leg bent out to the side.

Sometimes, the cold-eyed women kept their hands clasped chastely at their waists or shoulders as if guarding against emotional invasion. The feeling was at once erotic and off-putting, with a strong suggestion of Machiavellian villainy just beneath the mannered surface.

The tongue-locked duet from last year is longer and more staggeringly erotic than before, a choreographic tour de force that’s equally demanding of the dancers and the audience.

All Barton’s dancers are gorgeous, but those who took outstanding roles on Sunday were the “tongue” duet, Eric Beauchesne and Ariel Freedman, and the perfectly-attuned Baroque stylist William Briscoe. They danced with their evil eyes as well as their sweat-glazed bodies.

Coming Together

José Limon Dance Company

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, Mass., July 9

When the Limon company dances, the center holds. This is so, whether it’s a solo or an ensemble dance. Even when the ensemble angles off into couples or quartets, the invisible center draws them like a magnet, grounding their most far-flung forays.

On tour for their 60th anniversary (it’s also the 60th anniversary of the late Jose Limon’s first performance at Jacob’s Pillow), the 12-member company danced a perfectly balanced program of group and solo works that spanned a period from 1951 to 2005. Only one, A Choreographic Offering (1964) was choreographed by Limon—his homage to his early teacher and associate Doris Humphrey. Yet, the other dances all sprang from the Limon aesthetic of communality and humanism that artistic director Carla Maxwell honors as she preserves and adds to the company’s repertoire.

A Choreographic Offering, presented as the heart of the program, was transparent as a clear pool. The dancers, in simple costumes of mauve and plum, went around in a circle, leaning in and out as if propelled by centrifugal or centripetal force. The circle broke into lifts and falls, or into lines of dancers with hands enchained, who traveled around the known center like spokes of a wheel.

There was a folk-like, but elegiac passage when a cadre of men lifted the serene Roxanne Dorland Juste straight up like a wooden saint in a procession. Then, the men made a stepped bridge of their curved backs, and she walked up and up the endless bridge, all the way into the wings and an imagined heaven.

In this dance to Bach’s music, no movement was extreme, but the effect was full. One small example: a dancer executed the balletic cou de pied in which one lifted heel touches the ankle of the other foot; but, in Limon’s dance, she flexed the lifted foot, so the movement looked elegant, yet blunt at once.

The dancers smiled throughout—D’Orleans Juste beamed—projecting a sense of how privileged they must feel to perform this work.

The program opened with Jiri Kylian’s Evening Songs (1987) made for his Nederlands Dans Theater and set to vocal music by Dvorak. Three couples and a solo woman (D’Orleans Juste) step through simple, formal patterns in which they might be peasants quietly celebrating the end of a work day. Three women met and dipped their heads beneath the garlands of each other’s arms; three men each extended an arm to clasp together in the center like a horizontal Y; then, the trio turned like a winch. As couples, they were courteous and careful with each other, moving with simple dignity.

Two solos followed: Daniel Nagrin’s Dance in the Sun (1951), performed with athletic spirituality by Raphael Boumaila; and Donald McKayle’s Angelitos Negros (1972) to Roberta Flack’s soulful challenge, danced with controlled fervor by D’Orleans Juste, who has been with the Limon company for 23 years.

Both solos expressed Latin American themes and rhythms. Boumaila, barefoot, dropped his white cotton jacket, so we could see his torso undulate to percussive piano music. Angled jumps and lunges alternated with expansive circles around the stage and prayerful still moments when he stretched his curved arms upward. At the end, he picked up his jacket and walked off, tempering the sublime with the reality of daily life.

D’Orleans Juste always is sublime, whatever she’s dancing. She began Angelitos in a severe, vibrant flamenco posture, her wrists crossed above her head to form a mantilla comb, her bare toes gripping the floor. Above her long, ruffled flamenco skirt, her bare midriff pulsated. Every shudder of her hips, every ripple of each vertebra was clear. She raised her fists or beat her hands in anger and a proud plea to the painter of Flack’s song: “Aunque la virgen sea blanca, pintame angelitos negros,” and finished with an endless churning of her body, a swirling of her skirts.

The final dance was Lar Lubovitch’s Recordare (remember), the company’s gift to itself on their 60th anniversary. Set to music by Elliot Goldenthal, Recordare is a funny-scary set of vignettes like the retablos of little figures and mementos that Mexicans display on the Day of the Dead.

A dancing Death—a skeleton in black tights and skull mask—was the master of ceremonies who cavorted with frightened maidens or bereaved wives. Decked out like the pop Madonna with cones for breasts, he seduced a drunken caballero in a lurching duet. Wild as any Halloween monster, he brought out a big-bellied red Devil in feathered cape and horned hood, who led the corps in a twisting, snaky line, their heads wagging and their arms and elbows jutting extravagantly to mad, bombastic music, some of it quoted from the Devil’s Dance in Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale.

The costumes—lots of skulls, lots of outsized flowers—by Anne Hould Ward and the stage design with gilded proscenium, black coffin and rough wooden cross by Ken Foy were wonderfully theatrical. Recordare is a decorative contrast to the almost austere look of many Limon dances, but it shares with them the expressive quality and the respect for the lives of plain people that make the Limon repertory timeless.

—Mae G. Banner

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