“Expressions of Beauty”

Dance Theater Workshop
New York City
July 15-16, 2009


CorbinDances in Adele’s Skirt (Tsaritsas) by Nelly van Bommel. Photo: Yi-Chun Wu

In its two-night run at Dance Theater Workshop last week, CorbinDances found beauty in the tragic and the absurd, in free-flowing lyricism and structured patterns. Aptly titled “Expressions of Beauty,” the program included two works by artistic director Patrick Corbin, one by Nelly van Bommel and a world premiere by Jodie Gates.

Before the performances, which were part of DTW’s SummerDANZ festival, Corbin broke the news that he was injured and would not be dancing. This was a bit of a letdown – the compact and powerful Corbin danced with Paul Taylor Dance Company from 1989 to 2005 and was one of its most celebrated performers. But as Corbin’s dancers threw themselves into his choreography (sometimes quite literally), the initial disappointment dissipated. The strength of his four-year-old company was proof that his prodigious gifts go beyond the realm of performance.

Given Corbin’s history with PTDC, one can’t help scanning his work for signs of Taylor’s influence. And there are echoes of it, for instance, in Reach (2007), whose go-for-broke athleticism recalls the joyous exertions of Esplanade. The dance is one segment of an evening-length work-in-progress called Bathing Jeff, which reflects on Corbin’s experience of saying goodbye to fellow Taylor dancer Jeff Wadlington, who died in 1994. In it, eight dancers dressed in artfully shredded shirts and other urban-contemporary threads (designed by Tyler Gilstrap), seem to alternately shun and fiercely protect a man (Orlando Martinez) who wears only a pair of blue briefs.

Propelled by the plaintive urgency of Philip Glass’s “String Quartet #5,” they hurtle through space, running, jumping, sliding, throwing themselves into each other’s arms in daredevil catches, and repeatedly collapsing to the floor. (Martinez often partners Adele LeRoi Nickel, and when she’s onstage it’s nearly impossible to watch anyone else.) In the final moment before the stage goes dark, the group lies spent while Martinez remains standing, his whole body reaching up and out.

Romantic Conversions (2008), Corbin’s other piece on the program, is decidedly more restrained. Set to music by Rachmaninov, the work plays with classical port de bras and extrapolates the arm positions throughout the body. Two couples, one dressed in white (Sharon Milanese and Durell R. Comedy) and the other in black (Elizabeth DeMent and Martinez), display contrasting movement qualities: The white couple’s silky moves exude romance, while the black couple maintains a polite formality. Eventually, the foursome achieves equilibrium and they stand facing each other in a square, their arms whirring through the sequence of positions. And when at the end they draw closer, wrap their arms around each other’s waists and lean back, like a flower opening, the moment is surprisingly emotional.

The two women sharing the program with Corbin balanced the evening with whimsy and humor. Gates’s Springtide Thereafter (2009), a duet for Milanese and Gregory Dolbashian set to Bach and Vivaldi, feels like a lighthearted romp in a meadow. Outfitted in Melanie Watnick’s sheer, flowing costumes in sage green, Milanese and Dolbashian flirt and gambol their way through the short piece with the ease and ecstasy of new lovers. On their feet are flesh-colored booties that allow them to glide effortlessly across the stage – in a relationship’s early bloom, there is no rocky terrain on which to stumble.

Van Bommel’s hilarious Adele’s Skirt (Tsaritsas) (2008), which wrapped up the program, offers a portrait of male-female relations without the airbrushing. In it, four women in voluminous petticoats skewer traditional notions of femininity as they flop gracelessly to the floor, derrieres pointing skyward, and pull themselves up by their own braids. Meanwhile, three fellows alternately manipulate the women’s bodies like puppeteers and hop to when they’re called upon to escort them around the stage. Throughout, the dancers maintain an expression of deadpan consternation as they struggle to achieve grace in spite of each other.

Set to a selection of Russian folk songs sung by Svetlana de Loutchek and Les Musiciens de Lviv, Adele’s Skirt was inspired by dancer Adele LeRoi Nickel, who is the star of this piece. The tiny blonde brings to her dancing a bold sense of humor and fierce attack that belies her delicate frame. And her feet! Meggi
Sweeny, whose braids figured into the choreography, was another standout.

If the dance seems to go on a little too long, it’s hardly problematic; watching these dancers is a pleasure. So is waiting to see where Corbin will go next.

Michelle Vellucci

Mr. Simpson has a BA in Journalism from the University of Southern California and worked as an advertising writer in Los Angeles before moving to New York to pursue a different passion: dance. He danced professionally in New York and Boston before founding a community-based modern dance company, Small City Dance Project, in Newburyport, MA. His fiction has appeared in literary journals and anthologies. He was a teaching fellow at Smith College, where he received his MFA in choreography. While living in the Bay Area for 15 years, he wrote about dance for the San Francisco Chronicle and other periodicals. In 2005, he was a NEA Fellow at the Dance Critics Institute, American Dance Festival. For, he reviews dance, theatre and film. He moved to Santa Fe in October, 2008. He writes for "Pasatiempo," the Arts magazine of the "Santa Fe New Mexican."