Annenberg Center’s dance audience treated to a rare offering from two younger New York-based choreographers

February 15, 2011

Broad Street Review
Feb. 15, 2011

Thanks to a scheduling glitch in the 2010-11 Dance Celebration season, the Annenberg Center’s dance audience was treated to a rare offering from two younger New York-based choreographers. One was Kate Weare, who shone with an intense emotional brilliance and crisp physicality that marks her as a risen star on the national dance scene.

I first caught Weare at St. Mark’s Church in 2009 in Lean-to, a work commissioned by the Danspace Project, accompanied by New York’s Argento Chamber Ensemble. I vividly recall how its sharp, striking partnering left me with a satisfying feeling of emotional exhaustion.

This month Dance Celebration presented a newer work, Bright Land, which premiered Weare’s debut season at New York’s Joyce Theater last August with a live musical accompaniment of the scintillating country/bluegrass band, The Crooked Jades. Alas, in Philadelphia we heard only the muffled sound track of this band, whose energized music and lyrics are such a critical element of this work.

Weare smartly plays off the dozen or so country tunes and lyrics more than with them, accentuating the emotional dissonances of her two men and two women dancers— the wonderful Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Leslie Kraus and Marlena Penney Oden.

Feigning fans

The dance movement sometimes hums with the frolicsomeness or ecstasy of the songs, as certain gestures or motifs appear, such as the women’s running skips and their quivering hands feigning fans, fanning faces. But one’s expectations and equilibrium are shaken as we see men who crawl along the floor or remain frozen in plank positions. Dancers may pair suddenly, via instant leaps and carries, then join together or, just as unexpectedly, uncouple. Movements may slow or stop, replaced by lonely silences.

Weare shakes up the folk traditions and gender roles that these songs most often invoke. Intimacies and aggressions are so interlaced that an intriguing ambiguity casts its spell over the work. Weare’s versatile dancers exhibit a combination of athletic precision and speed, as well as a lightness and fluidity, that convey a heightened emotional punch without an excess of physical expressiveness.

Nevertheless the piece ends with something approaching a bone-to-bone punch. Gillespie ends a duet by falling down on top of Kraus; they sit up together, sharing a gaze as the music stops. Who would have expected to see this followed by aggressive head butts to his chest, each thud resonating through the silenced house? Kraus nails him down by degrees until he’s flat on the floor. This Bright Land casts its light on many shades of darkness.

Randy Swartz, Dance Celebration’s director, would do well to seed his tried and true mainstream dance offerings with more groups like Kate Weare’s as a way of expanding the dance consciousness of his loyal audiences.

Ersatz ebullience

In contrast to the depth and power of the Weare piece, Monica Bill Barnes’s Another Parade was a disappointing, lightweight attempt at parody. Her target was clichéd movement and ersatz ebullience to the accompaniment of the three B’s: Bach, Bacharach and Brown (as in James). At times I wished I could just turn off the dance and hear the music.

Barnes’s quartet of talented women, clothed in matter-of-fact turtle necked sweaters, brought forth a too repetitive array of hip shaking, shoulder and midriff baring, and fist-in-the-air pumping. They mimicked the self-congratulatory airs of popular stage performers. But parody can be canned as well, as Another Parade unfortunately demonstrated.