Dance Alloy forges ahead
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We are usually defined by the path we have built in life, which produces a certain sense of expectation for the future. Such is also the case in the arts, where a creative individual develops a personal style that establishes him.
The Dance Alloy Theater has presented a program that doesn't necessarily meet or exceed expectations, but throws them out the window. The company's very name, Alloy, perfectly reflects that -- a new substance created by differing elements that, in the end, make it stronger.
It is in the midst of such a restructuring under artistic director Greer Reed Jones. Not that DAT hasn't tweaked its vision before. It has moved from a collective of women, and then most strikingly to the organic, Soho sensibility of the congenial Elsa Limbach and New York-based Mark Taylor. Then it has made seismic shifts, first to the European drama of Beth Corning and now to an open-hearted American physicality under Ms. Reed Jones.
A remarkable and diverse quintet of dancers has made that adjustment from Ms. Corning's style, almost like method acting with movement, to Ms. Reed Jones' vision, freer and muscularly challenging.
Saturday's program at the New Hazlett Theater had a trio of works. The middle piece, Pilobolus' "Duet" (1992), came from the Corning repertoire. Almost like a kinetic sculpture, it was performed by Maribeth Maxa and Michael Walsh, perhaps the only female/male cast to do so. That, in itself, gave the piece an underlying tension in the past, when the pair performed it with its close-quarter hugging. There was also a sense of sexual equality because Ms. Maxa expertly lifted her partner in the difficult static lifts.
They previously relied on the tricky technical holds. This time it was hard to define that something else was happening. The wavy lighting on the floor gave the work a mystical quality, a curious subtext that made it hard to pinpoint, but put the audience on a journey with one wonderful result -- Ms. Maxa and Mr. Walsh have never looked so beautiful.
Ms. Reed Jones brought in a pair of choreographers that came through different avenues of dance -- Robert Battle with Parsons Dance Company and Christopher Huggins from Julliard and The Ailey School. But both groups share a highly physical aesthetic and a super-charged connection with the audience.
That brought up a different set of expectations. We had seen their work with touring companies and at Point Park University and assorted local groups. How would the detail-oriented Alloy veterans respond to this seemingly 180 degree swing?
Ms. Reed Jones asked Mr. Huggins to expand a work, "The List," that he had created for Pittsburgh CAPA based on the Holocaust. It followed a Jewish family, beginning with a knock at the door to the concentration camp. Emotions ran high from the start never wavered after that.
Mr. Huggins didn't allow for a sense of family as the prelude to the storm, which would have helped to give the work a dramatic arc. Or he could have had the family members quietly console each other to provide another layers.
But he is nonetheless a gifted choreographer. His movements have a gorgeous sweep and the dancers were committed to the undeniable power of his style. They also inspired him to have a new-found richness in the movement itself.
Mr. Battle's premiere, "Crossing," was a full-fledged response to an original score by Pittsburgh jazz composer and trumpet player Sean Jones and expanded the Alloy's resources with eight young dancers from the August Wilson Dance Ensemble. You had to notice the ferocity of the angular poses, bounces and claps while the dancers counted the Stravinsky-esque meters in the racing onslaught of the opening segment. There were heads thrown back as if laughing in delight and a joyousness at the end.
The images were crisp and, yes, unexpected. Also new -- a duet for the lovely Adrienne Misko and James Washington. Searching. Uncertain. But at the end, a simple and genuine connection.
While Mr. Battle maintain his Afro-inspired blocks of movement and minimal elements that provided the foundation for the choreography, he also was inspired by the abundance of Mr. Jones' musical landscape to provide clarity, innovation and moments of quiet and serious thought.
This work demonstrates that the Ailey's current director, Judith Jamison, made the right choice. Mr. Battle has the range, intelligence, inventiveness and sense of curiosity to head one of the world's most notable companies. It was a real coup for Ms. Reed Jones and the Alloy to engage him on the cusp of a new path and undoubtedly a new set of great expectations.
Dance Alloy Theater will repeat the program at 7 tonight. Call 412-363-4321.
First Published May 10, 2010 12:00 am