Modern meets jazz: the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.
Mae G. Banner
Sinopoli Dance Company
Egg, May 1
Two premieres and a bonus set by Laurel Massé and her jazz
quartet made Ellen Sinopoli’s spring dance concert fly. Getting
two shows in one was like hitting the lottery.
Massé, a founder and alumna of Manhattan Transfer, has been
living upstate for the last few years and singing solo at
regional clubs. She also hosts the live monthly Laurel
Massé Show on the WAMC network. At the Egg, she and her
quartet did a sophisticated jazz set you’d normally hear at
the Van Dyck. Later, Massé sang an a capella set, modal and
folklike, but with a slightly syncopated jazz undertone that
had the room enraptured—utterly quiet.
Sinopoli’s newest collaboration, takes the five-member modern
dance company into the realm of 1940s-era swing dancing. Adrian
Warnock- Graham, an Albany-based lindy hop-master, set the
dance in effervescent motion with a springy, slippery solo
to Sonny Rollins’ “Oleo,” while Massé sang a vocalese aria
to the sax part.
The quartet of piano, sax, bass, and drums matched Warnock-Graham’s
finger paint moves, swirl for swirl.
is a nicely varied suite that segues from the bopping “Oleo”
to a languorous “Lazy Afternoon” and concludes with the exuberant
“Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” All three songs come from Massé’s
1990 CD, but with new arrangements. She sang them all on her
April 28 WAMC show, and it was fun to hear them again, especially
with dancers adding another dimension.
Swing dancing, at heart, is a conversation between the dancers
and the players. In Jammin’ Sinopoli brings together
members of two tribes, the lindys and the moderns, and makes
it smooth as a drugstore malt. As “Oleo” subsides, Yukiko
Sumiya, a lovely dancer with a touch of comedy, glides in
on a skateboard to open “Lazy Afternoon.” She does ballet
splits and breast strokes on the board until Warnock-Graham
enters, takes her by one toe, and lifts her to the floor.
They gyrate down together like a pair of corkscrews, knees
Their dance looks serendipitous, full of somersaults, cartwheels,
and slo-mo aerials, but it’s a perfect fit between two bodies.
One dancer’s every knob is tucked neatly into the other’s
The duet morphs into a trio when tall, blonde Sarah Pingel
and petite Laura Spaziani join Warnock-Graham in Count Basie’s
“Jumpin’ at the Woodside.” We see the lindy man teach the
modern dancers a new language with terms like the Shorty George,
the Charleston, and the Texas Tommy—hot truckin’ and kicky
Sinopoli is a choreographer who mines the talents of artists
in many fields. She gets real sparks when she brings disparate
Sinopoli also is open to all kinds of music. In the evening’s
other premiere, Rising Low, the choreographer draws
on modal laments by Iris DeMent and Michelle Shocked and Delta
blues by Otis Taylor to inspire a suite of lowdown dances.
Low, as in blue, and literally low to the ground, the dancers
knelt with their backs to the audience and their legs splayed
out in a striking V-shape. Or, they clustered on four folding
chairs, while Pingel, shoulders rounded in despair, danced
her solo sorrow.
Low is a mature work for Sinopoli. She lets emotion in.
The dance has a gutsy, earthy feel, with forceful backward
kicks cut by that kneeling motif. One trio section evokes
a country train, always traveling, getting nowhere.
The concert opened with Pierre’s Words, (1997) set
to original music by Joel Chadabe and a multilingual wordplay
by poet Pierre Joris. The dancers, Eve Di Taranto and Spaziani,
were overshadowed by Joris’s voice-over, which I found exaggerated
and needlessly fraught. Sinopoli’s choreography is on the
analytic side, polished, athletic, like contact improv, but
with no felt connection between the dancers.
expanded and deepened beyond its 2003 premiere at the Egg,
is one of Sinopoli’s best works because it rises naturally
from its theme of soaring. She sets her dancers in sculptural
groupings or flings them like a handful of jacks across the
stage. It’s a shapely dance, always changing, always interesting.
You want to see what will happen next.
to recorded Celtic songs and poems sung and read by Siobhan
Quinn, has a strong vertical thrust. The dancers repeat a
stance with one arm raised straight up. Standing before a
red-lit backdrop, their bodies glowing gold, they look like
seabirds on Ireland’s western cliffs—a magical image.
Now, about that bonus concert: Massé, in a strappy red evening
gown, and her quartet, in tuxes, played soulful, urbane standards,
including Billie Holiday’s “What a Little Moonlight Can Do.”
Massé has a lush voice, an unbelievable range, and a taste
for scat singing that’s lively and free of clichés. The sax
and piano solos were deft and intelligent, turning the Egg
into a late-night jazz club. How cool is that?