Stephen Pelton Dance Theater  “Lauda Adrianna” (North America Premiere)
Chad Dawson & Nol Simonse. Photo by Sean Purser.

Stephen Pelton Dance Theater “Lauda Adrianna” (North America Premiere)

“Lauda Adrianna” is a contemporary liturgical dance with secular overtones; a ritual of movement based on longing, a wishing to believe in heaven, and the attempt to fill in the void, which accompanies loss—the loss of Adrianna. Left with this primal ache after his cousin’s sudden passing, Stephen Pelton smartly choreographed five dancers to new versions of a medieval form of unaccompanied music and religious songs. This 14th century Italian spiritual music is known as “laudes.” Gavin Bryars’ contemporary recording of this music shapes this performance-featuring soprano Anna Maria Friman with tenor John Potter. Bryars has added a second voice (Potter) to this genre as well as cello, viola, and double bass. The “laudes” create the emotional density that the dancers wade through with lightness and agility while being confined by two church pews on each side of the stage. Solos take place with other dancers witnessing from the pews or they interact framed by the pews beneath a stained glass window motif that floats overhead. The result is as contemplative and meditative as evening prayer or vespers, with dancers continually moving in the silence between songs.

“Lauda Adrianna” is not only a 45-minute requiem for the departed and a condolence for the living, but also a yearning and homage for a modern dance purity of days gone by. The choreography is classic modern, reminiscent of Pelton’s roots with Limon-inspired dance technique, full of arabesques and bent and extended arms of adulation–Graham style. It is easy to imagine the dancers in costumes from the 50s and 60s, women in short slips and men with bell sleeves and flared trousers performing the same piece, at a time when Christian iconography was more common place among dance. “Lauda Adrianna” is both refreshingly nostalgic, and a complimentary juxtaposition to Pelton’s more abstract and environmental works. This piece is further made compelling for today’s audience by the collective talent of the company, especially the supple exactness of newcomer Chad Dawson, whose presence makes his small stature appear much larger on stage and, the consistency of seasoned dancer Peiling Kao’s understated precision and graceful line. In a throw away-moment when the two turn into a downward spin–with Dawson momentarily collapsing into Kao’s lap—their tableau alludes to the iconic image of in Michael Angelo’s “La Pieta” when the Virgin Mary laments the dead body of Christ draped across her knees–timely for this Easter weekend.

David E. Moreno

David E. Moreno E-RYT500, YACEP, SFT, is an internationally recognized yoga instructor who came to yoga after dancing professionally in a variety of modern dance companies and light opera productions. He also trained in experimental dance including the early phases of Steve Paxton's contact improv, the environmental happenings of Anna Halprin, and the deep inner dance of Continuum with Emilie Conrad. His commentaries on yoga have been featured in an assortment of yoga journals and magazines, and he is the producer of yoga DVDs and eBooks.