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They sneak up on you: Gallim Dance at Jacob’s Pillow.

Photo: Karli Cadel

Worth the Wait

By French Clements

Gallim Dance

Jacob’s Pillow, Doris Duke Theatre, Becket, Mass., July 11

Much of Andrea Miller’s hour-long Blush, performed at Jacob’s Pillow last week by her New York City-based group Gallim Dance, feels familiarly unremarkable. It’s easy to be suspicious of contemporary dances like this one, merging the stylish and awkward, usually in favor of the more-flattering former. Besides, for the piece’s first three- quarters, little of great note happens. In its final section, though, Blush made a gut-wrenching about-face, a change strong enough to recast everything before it as memorable, unfamiliar, even unique.

A single male dancer, moving in and out of a large square of white tape on the floor, opens the work. He moves slowly, in a heavy funk. Covered entirely in a thick white paste, and moving through theatrical fog, he has the vaporous presence of a ghost or a very old man. The music shifts to one of Blush’s many indistinguishable contemporary compositions, and more dancers arrive, including three evil- looking ballerina-types. The three men, bare-chested, wear black bloomers, each with a giant Pilgrim-style buckle at center. All dancers are covered in the white paste, with lips and eyelids left red and raw. When anyone slides on the floor, friction scrapes away the paste to reveal fleshy, contrasting skin. Those rosy sores, and the general gloom, made me think of zombies.

Blush’s images are rich and inscrutable at once. The dancers muscle around, hurling themselves into the air and each other, seemingly trapped in a state of emotional cave-dwelling. Their pent-up limbs barely extend. Nobody enjoys any interpersonal contact. The strongly graphic poses repeatedly recalled cave paintings, with their emphasis on brute, two-dimensional physique. During one of two lovely works for solo piano by Chopin, a few movement elements stood out. Once, a dancer bit her knee in frustration, and another did a fancy-stepping chorus-girl’s solo, in hopes of impressing a man. And that guy’s set of peculiar bent-legged jumps deserves description. He jumped up high with one leg to the front and one to the back, with the sole of his front foot slap-kicking the front of the thigh behind. It was hard to tell where the slapping sound was coming from.

For much of these sections, given the high-energy, portentous gloom, something seemed forever about to happen. When each new section passed without making good on that promise—with nothing to sink my belief into—Blush lost its energy. It was especially disappointing when the dancers, in the absence of substance, just glared their scary zombie-faces at the audience. Vinny Vigilante’s handsome lighting repeatedly resisted defining much of the action.

Later, there was an acrobatic male duet to Arvo Pärt’s damnably beautiful string work Fratres, which has, since its creation, been catnip for seemingly every fifth choreographer. The work’s attenuated violins certainly complement Miller’s longing, with bodies that are both subtle and primal, but wasn’t there another (ideally shorter) work to fit the bill? Sexuality soon grew overt here: One man mounted his partner from behind, maybe quoting classical vases, then they had a good wrassle. One climbed on top of his partner and, covering that man’s eyes, shouted out directional commands. At another point, one repeatedly bent his head low into the other’s crotch.

So, late in the game, it’s startling when all of that muggy frustration turns out to have been a preamble to something quite the opposite. When the shift comes, it’s as if the cave-dwellers turn out, in retrospect, to have civil minds, and their ape-like acrobatics reveal (in memory) the human subtlety that Miller knew (but we didn’t know) was there all along.

Anyway, this monumental change happened precisely when the music shifted, this time to the massive Wolf Parade song, “I’ll Believe in Anything.” Holy crap, did this song look good. Searing waves of melody rush ahead of its simmering percussion, and it’s powerful enough that to keep any steps noticeable in the din would seem impossible. But Miller did it. She has her dancers gulping up space, putting out as much energy as the towering song puts out. You want to shout, “They’re doing it! They’re finally doing it!” From the stage’s rear, rows of gold bulbs threatened to blind us; the music cast the option of deafness around the small theater; everything felt as it should. The singer addresses his need for someone’s eyes, for sunshine, and for “your blood, your bones, your voice, and your ghost.” Chills traced my spine. But suddenly, the dancers donned cheesy grins like they were in one of those old Gap commercials, very much out of nowhere. Hey, that was too easy! Like, if a happy song was all they needed, why didn’t they just play that song sooner?

That led to the work’s abrupt concluding moment, still in Wolf Parade’s storm: one of the women peels up the square of white tape from the floor, happily leading her happy mates like the Pied Piper into the resulting empty space, tape curling in trails around her. Of course, we didn’t know it was the tape’s presence that stifled them in the first place. But what a lovely, unanticipated image. It all made sense in the end.

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