“Bach Dances” was a package neatly tied together by several factors. First, by the predictability and vibrancy of J.S. Bach, second, by the classic modern dance style of its choreographer and artistic director, Pascal Rioult. This style of modern dance appeared just a barefoot away from ballet slippers, dancing within a well-established formula of modern dance that is no longer modern, but reflects its early roots. The other consistencies are found within Rioult’s long established team of collaborators; Harry Feiner with his artsy set design/projection design, Brian Clifford Beasely with his expanding and contracting projection animation, David Finley with lighting design, and Karen Young’s routinely smart costume design. Most significant are the ten athletic dancers that make “Bach Dances” worth watching even with its predictability. The four dances that comprise the program were created over a seven-year period beginning in 2008 through 2015 with the most recent “Polymorphous.” However, the latest doesn’t indicate the most progressive or interesting, and this dance quickly faded into a grey zone, with its four dancers literally becoming part of grey speckled abstract projection that painted the stage’s back wall. “Polymorphous” was indistinguishable from stage design which was more intentional than its lack luster choreography.
“Views of the Fleeting World” had the most references to Rioult’s mentor, Martha Graham, especially with dancers clad in crimson floor-length skirts reminiscent of Graham’s iconic costuming and tableaus. Even some of her signature gestures such as arms extended like wings seemed to be borrowed. “Views of the Fleeting World” included seven segments each delineated by different painted abstract projections. Transitions between one segment and the next lacked rhythm and felt belabored as different environmental sounds—wind, water, crickets… attempted to fill the empty stage. Dancing often happened along a horizontal plane, moving left to right across the stage or in horizontal formations underutilizing much of the stage. That said, the most interesting part of this dance was “Moonlight.” In that segment, space was confined by an overhead light as Sara Elizabeth and Brian Flynn danced solely on the floor. The confined space, drawn out by a pool of light, alluded to a bed—as if two lovers were being viewed from overhead. The majority of their undulating tenderly simulated the power dynamics of sharing a bed and the crescendoing sexual tension of a couple.
“City” was the gem of the program with all ingredients: projections, costuming, choreography and, staging melding perfectly together. Sabatino A. Verlezza, Corinna Lee Nicholson, Catherine Cooch, and Michael Spencer Phillips’ dancing amplified the tensions of urban living–its random and often impersonal connections, or magical moments when a city becomes a romantic backdrop for budding flirtations. Beasley’s projections of skyscrapers zoomed in and out of details, close-ups, then into sweeping panoramas of the ethereal reflections found on glass high-rises. The stage seemed to grow and shrink in size, as dancers moved through pools of low-density lighting. The coloration of costumes, background, and lighting were rich in autumnal colors, as choreography moved indifferent to Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. “City” freed itself from the obvious and was an equal to Bach rather than his slave.
A lively upbeat Brandenburg Concerto made “Celestial Tides” an obvious choice to end the program. And, was most dimensional when the background projections washed across the stage floor and onto the dancers, turning their movement into part of the abstraction.
David E. Moreno