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Anniversary dance: Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company celebrates the Egg’s 25th.

A Glorious Feat
By Mae G. Banner

Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company
The Egg, April 12

Remember that old day-camp rouser: “The more we get together, the happier we’ll be?” Well, it’s true. A slew of the region’s most talented musicians turned out to celebrate the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company’s 12th year as resident modern-dance company at the Egg. Their compositions—commissioned by the Egg to mark the venue’s 25th anniversary—lifted the dance concert to empyrean heights.

The musicians, all of whom performed vibrant solos and made Sinopoli’s choreography sing, were Gideon Freudmann, electronic cello; Donald Knaack, junk and recycled objects; Carl Landa, piano and melodica; Brian Melick, percussion; Siobhan Quinn, vocalist; and Maria Zemantauski, flamenco guitar. More about them, later.

Sinopoli is at the top of her game. Her company, which now includes two men and five women, is dancing with a common spirit, a velvety look that cloaks steely energy.

In Falling, a new work with music composed and performed by Melick and Zemantauski, you could see how the dancers molded the space around them, not slicing the air, but pressing and pushing it as if they were working a mound of resistant clay. The musicians sat in the orchestra pit facing the dancers, creating a climate of mutual inspiration.

Responding to Zemantauski’s rising and falling arpeggios and Melick’s ripples and thwacks on the Middle Eastern dumbek and Guinean box-drum, the five dancers were drawn into clusters that split into quick pairings and reformed into a tight group that stepped backward to the rim of the stage and broke, this time into patterns of two or three. Darren McIntyre’s turning jumps made exciting exclamation points.

Mingling song and the spoken word, Siobhan Quinn gave voice to Winged, a new dance for the full company. Quinn interwove poems by Rilke, Blake and Yeats—all on themes of bird and flight—with a Southern Appalachian hymn and her own composition, “Wing on Wing,” to a poem of Rilke.

The dancers spread across the stage, making wings of their arms and balancing on one foot. In one section, McIntyre and Marc Weiss both partner Yukiko Sumiya, while the others lie on their backs, arms outstretched. Sumiya, a lovely addition to the company, dances with delicate strength and glowing presence as she threads her way among her companions.

Tango for Four (or I’m Putting My Head in the Oven Now) had McIntyre and Samantha Ball Karmel riding a pair of upholstered chairs on wheels as if they were piloting Zambonis on an ice rink. Propelling the chairs with their hands or feet, doing headstands on the comfy cushions, or jumping over a chair’s back to land sitting upright, they had all kinds of fun with this one-note joke.

Carl Landa’s tango-y, jazzy music kept things moving, but the dance was a little too long and too closely tied to the music. I began to wonder what he exit strategy was in this battle of the sexes.

The glory of live music gave dimension, shape and purpose to two familiar Sinopoli works, Regalis, which opened the program, and Coming & Going, which closed it. Freudmann’s composition of deep, raspy cello partnered seductively with the dancers’ curving, elastic bodies as they formed haremlike configurations.

Glory is not too strong a word for the power of real, in-the-moment music to transform a dance from calisthenics to art. I could feel the energy passing back and forth between Freudmann’s cello and the dancers.

The same palpable energy, this time from Don Knaack’s one-man gamelan orchestra of oil drums, fly swatters, pot lids, and plastic drainage tubing, fueled the split-leg jumps, runs, crashes and rolls of Coming & Going. This is a bouncy dance whose chiming, thrumming music made it absorbing, gave it substance.

In a pre-concert panel with the musicians, Sinopoli said she had asked them to play solos between the dances, so the audience could get their fill of watching these artists, and, thus sated, be ready to turn their eyes to the dancers when they took the stage. This was an inspired idea. It transformed the evening into an event—a generous celebration of the variety and depth of talent in this region.

Freudmann’s polytonal composition with layers of electronic sampling, Quinn’s compelling soprano that shifted brutally from a traditional Irish lament to a fierce gospel howl, and the wonderful improvisatory work of Zemantauski, Melick and Landa piled on the riches. It was clear, too, how much the musicians appreciated each other.

Even the intermission was an event. Knaack led the audience, which included a good share of teens, in a four-part rhythm jam on found objects. We were all banging and clapping out our beats, smiling and feeling relaxed and expansive. A passive audience became participants in a big family party.

Hey, we need to do this more often.

 

 


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