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Tree huggers: Members of the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.

Wood You Like to Dance?
By Mae G. Banner

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
The Egg, April 13

With her first full-evening work, Ellen Sinopoli and her dance company have come of age.

Over 10 years of dancemaking in the Capital Region, Sinopoli has become known for her astute choice of collaborators and for dances that play off materials of the visual arts–-everything from upended rusty bedsprings to a malleable swatch of yellow jersey.

Saturday night at the Egg, we saw a long dance with a long name: From the mind/of a single long vine/one hundred opening lives, in which the eight dancers related so intimately with Jim Lewis’ set of carved cedar objects that the dancer’s bodies and the wooden benches and tools combined as powerful sculptures, part human, part glowing wood.

Lewis, a furniture maker who specializes in objects for churches, filled the stage with roughly carved, African-influenced pieces, including a shield that stood on two curved legs, a set of large oval scoops that looked like small canoes, a long bench, and a rectangular seat with a handle like a suitcase. Through the 11 selections of From the mind, a community of dancers grouped and regrouped on and around the upstage bench, while others came forward to manipulate the suitcase or scoops, suggesting stories of leaving and returning or of working women’s magic.

The most moving section was “The Betrothed,” a duet for Amy Carpinello and Marc Weiss performed on a “marriage bench” carved and scooped to hold two people. Rising in bursts of movement, sometimes in concert and sometimes away from each other, the two explored and tempted each other in a courtship ritual that was formal and erotic at once. Music by Ali Jihad Racy had a sensuous Middle Eastern rhythm that propelled the sinuous flow of the couple’s moves. Separately and together, the dancers made shapes that echoed the curves of the bench. This duet, complete in itself, will stand alone in future concerts by the troupe.

So will “Calabash Women,” a trio for Isabelle J. DiGiovanni, Kim Engel and Deb Rutledge, who wielded their large scoops to vocal, percussion and string music by Rokia Traore. The women sat in the hollows of the scoops, spun them with one bare foot, rocked them, cradled them, laid them like babies along their cheeks. Buoyed by the music, given power by the angled shapes of their clay-colored overskirts and the shadowy lighting, the women became one with the wood.

Not only were the dancers and sculptures well-mated, but their moves were enhanced by Sinopoli’s choice of African and African-based music, Kim Vanyo’s sculptural costumes in ochre and brick red tones, and Jason Sinopoli’s meditatively low lighting. Sinopoli’s production values always have been meticulous. This time, the elements cohered to create a near-mystical effect.

More than in previous dances, Sinopoli suggested characters and brief narratives in the selections of From the mind. Samantha Ball Karmel opened the work in a solo with the suitcase. She swung the case by its handle and let it lead her offstage as if she were leaving home. This act made way for a group dance on the massive upstage bench. Here, the dancers swayed in unison or wrapped one arm around their heads, a motif that Sinopoli repeated later. Some standing, some sitting, the group of five dancers became a living sculpture that gave extra meaning to the wooden bench and drew power from it.

Later, Yukiko Sumiya was a skittering, playful child who danced away triumphantly from the three Calabash Women.

Two new dancers were especially interesting to watch. Carpinello was slim and stretchy as an elastic band, and Rutledge had a sturdy grace that lent a serious presence to her movements.

The African music, repetitive and hypnotic, held the audience in a cradle of sound. Only when Sinopoli turned to English lyrics by Sweet Honey in the Rock did I feel that the words were imposing a story on the dance. Still, the From the mind represents a huge step for Sinopoli. It is her most ambitious work so far, and leaves a strong impression. She has tied together elements that might have flown apart and has made a world for the dancers to inhabit.

 

 


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