Inventive dance and a last work in week at ADF

Jul. 21, 2013 @ 08:45 PM

The American Dance Festival’s sixth week offered work by ponydance and Trisha Brown.


July 17-July 21

Motorco Music Hall

The ponydance performance of  “Where did it all go right?” seen Thursday, provided a unique experience. Inspired by real-life human courtship dramas enacted in pubs/bars, this Irish troupe successfully pulls off an art-imitates-life coup. It helps that it’s actually performed in a bar with an audience that, at times, participates in the drama.

To portray the eternal tale of two women vying for the attention of one man, performers Leonie McDonagh, Neil Hainsworth and Paula O’Reilly deliver high-energy dancing and convincing physical fights as well employing acting abilities mostly through body language and facial expressions. Comedic talents also play a role in audience engagement, as does the ways in which performers get some audience members in on the act. 

The dancing proves technically impressive and inventive. In one sequence, Hainsworth’s and McDonagh’s frenzied mating dance involves striping to their underwear and somehow managing to wind up dressed in each other’s clothes. In the physical fights between O’Reilly and McDonagh, O’Reilly throws convincingly brutal punches also made realistic by the surprise and pain reflected on McDonagh’s face as she staggers backwards or falls on the floor.

There’s also a glimpse of the sort of real-life tensions that could arise in this company between dancer/artistic director McDonagh and dancer/company manager O’Reilly.

(And, now a spoiler alert to audiences in New Zealand, who will see ponydance perform this work in August. Do not read any further. A fourth cast member, Duane Watters, also makes an appearance that combines spectacular show dance moves with gyrations directed at the women in the audience.)

Trisha Brown Dance Company

July 19-July 20

Durham Performing Arts Center

Once again, Trisha Brown’s work beguiles in a program that offers a retrospective as well as Brown’s most recent work -- reportedly her last work ever due to a series of small strokes.

In Brown’s dances, everything seems to flow in a natural, effortless manner that  encourages a meditative state, relaxed yet focused in order to notice both patterns and exceptions – some of which reflect her wit and ingenuity. The almost constant movements are punctuated with moments of stillness.

In her 1983 “Set and Reset,” Robert Rauschenberg’s set pieces that reflect a collage of black and white film footage, costumes and transparent wings contribute greatly to this classic work. The transparent wings expand the work to the wings because the audience can now see dancers there.

“If You Couldn’t See Me,” the 1994 solo Brown made and performed for herself, requires the dancer to move in such a way that the audience never sees her face. This requires flexibility and a certain courage to appear onstage in this unorthodox way. It’s easy to see why dancer Leah Morrison, who performed the solo in this program, won a New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for her 2008 Joyce Theater performance of this work. At the post-performance discussion, Morrison said that she could feel the “electricity” of the audience even though she could not see them. 

The title of this work is taken from directions Brown gave the dancers in the early days of creating the dance.

This dance has a spiritual, ethereal quality. At one point, we hear Tibetan Buddhist horns in Alvin Curran’s score.

Again, Brown’s wit is evident in such moves as a dancer grabbing one of her toes and holding onto it as her male partner lifts her to his shoulder.

Seven industrial fans onstage play an integral role as elemental forces that create the environment in which the dancers exit. Fans produce wind sounds and light glances off the moving blades. At times, dancers seem on the verge of blowing away or appear to struggle against the wind. Kaye Voyce’s white costumes enhance the wind’s presence as blousy tops with wide sleeves and pants with bell-bottoms ripple at various speeds depending on how close dancers are to the fans. There’s also a feeling, in the theater, of being in an oxygen-rich environment that nurtures and refreshes.

An eighth fan is set apart by the fact that it doesn’t spin. Also, at times, a dancer stands out, alone onstage. Both offer fitting images for an illustrious career and its end -- except in the memories of this and other performances of Brown’s work over the years.