You will have to make a choice. There should be no dilly-dallying, told the audience Kyle Abraham at the beginning of his premiere, “Dearest Home.” You should either watch his new work with the headsets and soundtrack that he provides, or watch it as it was created–in silence. Tough choice, how to know? While it’s novel to have even been given this option and, even more fun to use gear–as if listening to your own personal soundtrack–it is also novel to watch the hour-long production raw in the quiet of movement. During a Q & A with the company at the end of the show Abraham confessed that the only reason there is this choice is because he feared audiences might fall asleep without music, especially during night performances. What I’ve learned over the years reviewing shows is that sleep, like being tired, during a production only really happens when a dance lacks vitality and invention. And, that often, less creative choreography can be masked or carried by an engaging soundtrack. Boredom is dissolved by genius and creativity.
I chose the purist road. I followed his directions and listened instead to the panting of dancers; the hum of a ventilation system, the sound a crispy shirt makes when being unbuttoned, the thud of dancers landing, their heavy breathing, a sneeze from the audience… So, I’m afraid that I have nothing to say about Jerome Begin’s soundtrack. You’ll have to ask my date who reported it was “ambient” and changed with intensity throughout different segments. And, intense with emotional heaviness is Abraham’s home, where joy, tranquility, and playfulness move on too quickly, and loss and longing, grief and anger move too slowly. Fortunately, his choreography is appealing enough with his signature little throwaways—a flexed ankle augmenting a leg extension, and the non-lingering of movement phrases that quickly change into a new phrase. It’s his trademark freshness that made the solos and duets worth watching, along with the sincerity and intimacy of his dancers that were surrounded on four sides by the audience. In fact, they are so close to the audience that at times I had to turn my feet out of their way. This relationship with them filled the silence with empathy and familiarity. How many of us dance alone, or struggle to dance with another in the sanctuary of our safe space, where we strip our clothes sometimes neatly, some times discarding them in piles, and so to our emotions with the same care or negligence? Stages of nudity happened in varying degrees as dancers took off pieces of clothing as part of their solos or duets, eventually dancing in briefs or fully naked as Jeremy Neal did in the dimly lit final solo. Dan Scully’s lightening design tenderly protected the innocence of these stages of stripping and quietly washes the stage throughout with simple dusty lighting.
The only one time when I wished for music was during Connie Shiau’s solo. Shiau who danced in a floral dress throughout also played a mother figure in one earlier scene where she realizes she has to share the love for her son (Jeremy Neal) with another man (Matthew Baker.) In her solo she maintains the same rigid intensity and wardrobe. Although her lanky long limbs are exquisite to watch, the solo outlives its purpose by being too long too deep into the performance. It’s not her talent that makes the segment long, but the stylistic repetition of choreography and character’s one-dimensional emotion, both established much earlier. With music I could have drifted away until the next segment instead of yawning. “Dearest Home” is solid and worked well in the intimate setting of the YBCA Forum. In the hands of a less talented choreographer it could have easily come off as self-indulgence and tedious. One of its surprises, as revealed in the Q & A, was that the graceful and charming dancer, Stephanie Terassaki had only been with the company for four days (replacing veteran Catherine Ellis Kirk due to injury.) Her emotional honesty and poetic dancing would have never given this feat away.
David E. Moreno