Woods is a gatherer. She collects people’s words and gestures,
records them on videotape, and, with her six-member company
Souloworks, weaves them into dances like Love Letters,
which had its premiere performance Friday night at the Egg.
Letters is a suite of a dozen fragments, shards of oral
history refined into dance. Full of good movement ideas, but
muddied by some distracting video and a too in-your-face
onstage jazz quartet, the work could use some editing.
the dance has promise. One solid contributor was Delora Bascombe
of Albany, who joined the dancers onstage to read her “Dear
Delora” while a vivacious dancer soloed as her alter ego.
Words and movement fused when the two walked off companionably
together, Bascombe’s hand on the dancer’s shoulder.
dancers took turns sitting at a small table downstage right
to read all kinds of letters: parental chats, longings from
a distance, regrets over a broken romance. The letters are
full of heartfelt imagery. It’s easy to see why people had
to save them.
dances to a long, gossipy family note laced with reminders
to maintain good behavior. She responds gesturally to mama’s
cautions, looking back over her shoulder or raising a warning
finger. In “Dear Peg,” Christopher Campbell’s tall balletic
body draws in and crumples, embodying the hurt and puzzlement
of a man whose lover has quit him.
Letters, with its simple set piece of a small window hung
with white cotton curtains, is meant to be personal, intimate.
However, too often, my eye was drawn away from the dancers
by the hyper movements of musician-composer David Pleasant
and his quartet, whose polyrhythmic music tended to override
the choreography rather than support it. Pleasant segued from
swing to ragtime to Caribbean to bubbling jitterbug music—all
exciting, but better relegated to the orchestra pit than onstage.
should have seen the visual clutter created by the quartet,
because she has a fine sense of composition. Sweet Willie
Mae, her tribute to the great blues singer Willie Mae
Thornton, was a triumph that set the six dancers into unexpected,
satisfying sculptural groupings.
remarkable old Thornton recordings moved the dance from the
weary but tough-minded “Heavy Load” to the Memphis backbeat
of “Catfish Blues” and the leaping finale, “Ball N’ Chain.”
The music and the movement grow in tandem from the spare guitar
line and minimal, weighted steps of “Heavy Load” to the brash
horn and drums that power the shuddering jumps of “Ball N’
tell of leaving. In a brilliant stroke, Woods weights the
stage with worn suitcases that dancers carry on, rest upon,
or stack up in small monuments. People and suitcases make
odd, jagged shapes in space, setting clumps of dancers at
oblique angles to each other. At one point, the dancers lie
on their backs with their suitcases on their bellies, like
Willie Mae makes a lot out of a little, evoking a wry
but determined spirit. With its imaginative entrances and
exits, its fearless use of a line of dancers with their backs
to the audience, and its final image of the group gathered
in the center on a platform of suitcases and letting their
arms dance beyond the end of the music, it says, “My story
is your story.”
a willow wand of a dancer with long arms and legs and a crowning
Afro, opened the concert with a solo, Legos Lullaby.
Set to recorded original music and chanting by Philip Hamilton,
it is fluid and earthy at once, full of quick shifts in tempo
and attack from staccato to legato.
wine-red tunic and slit trousers, Woods is a commanding figure
with a strong undulating torso and an active back. She frequently
dances at a three-quarter angle that shows off that powerful
back. Then, turning toward us, she flexes and curves her arms,
snapping them out straight and then gathering in the space
with gestures that gather in the audience as well.