The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland; November 1, 2013

Carmel Morgan

David Dorfman Dance  Photo © Adam Campos

David Dorfman Dance
Photo © Adam Campos

Wow.  That’s a good way to start a review, and that was my overall reaction to David Dorfman’s “Come, And Back Again.”  Wow because it had been a while since a dance piece dug into me quite so deeply.  It evoked all sorts of emotions, and the ride was fantastic. Dorfman expertly crafted “Come, And Back Again” so that it breathed with same sort of life pulse as its choreographer.  Indeed, the very personal work was about Dorfman, and yet it was also about our shared humanity, our loves and losses and longings.

“Come, And Back Again” began with words about Dorfman’s father, who repeatedly left home (as a salesman, we learn), and then one day did not return.  Dorfman noted that his father was always 15 minutes early for every appointment, while Dorfman admitted he tends to be 15 minutes late, and he marveled at his father’s organization.  Against a vast sculptural backdrop of solid white junk piled high (set installation by Jonah Emerson Bell in consultation with Callie Curry aka Swoon), Dorfman ruminated on his love of plastic bags and 30 years of theater programs, which he professed he cannot bear to throw away, and he mentioned his love of his wife and how she gracefully deals with his messes.  Full of truth and generous humor, Dorfman gave us a setting in which we could explore our heartaches and our soaring spirits along with him.  Rather like life, quiet was matched with loud volume, and serious moments were followed by laughter.  Additionally, the dancing was mixed with healthy doses of poignant and amusing text.  While “Come, And Back Again,” dealt with the theme of mortality, it also celebrated living and creating.

David Dorfman Dance’s four energetic dancers – Raja Kelly, Kendra Portier, Karl Rogers, and Whitney Tucker – fearlessly flew from one side of the stage to the other in leaps, jumps, and turns.  In one of my favorite sequences, Dorfman bounced around sparring with his dancers in largely improvised boxing-like duets.  They kicked and squirmed and grabbed arms and trunks.  His dancers smiled widely in this good-bye battle with their teacher.  In a post-performance discussion Dorfman aptly labeled the feeling as “joyful/mournful.”  Other enduring images were of Raja Kelly jumping up straight and high into the air, like Tigger, over and over, and Dorfman flapping his arms up and down as he explained the artist’s hope and fear of “doing this forever.”

Two guest performers, Jake MacDevitt and Julia Smith, took the abbreviated roles of Dorfman’s wife and son, while an aging, hefty Dorfman, danced part-time, joined the band part-time, and acted like a ringmaster.  The “locally sourced” band, playing music by the underground 1990s Atlanta band Smoke, added great oomph to “Come, And Back Again.”  I especially adored the vocals of Nick Montopoli, who growled a bit like Tom Waits.  He wore a long white slip, which contrasted in a wonderful way with his sideburns, the point being to give a nod to Smoke’s subversive lead singer Benjamin, who liked to dress in drag.  At one point, Montopoli sped across the stage, sliding fast like lightening.  That was another surprising wow moment.

I wasn’t wild about Kristi Wood’s costumes, particularly some of the oddly shaped tops with long panels hanging in the front and/or back.  They just didn’t flatter the dancers or the movement.  However, in my eyes, pretty much everything else was stellar.  The band, directed by Sam Crawford, gave an outstanding performance, even when they danced; the lighting design by Seth Reiser enhanced the work’s various moods; and it was evident the dramaturgy by Anne Davison provided a flowing structure that helped hold “Come, And Back Again” together.

In contrast to Susan Marshall’s “Play/Pause” at the Kennedy Center earlier in the week, which also involved a live band and a small number of dancers, Dorfman’s piece was warm and intimate and contained not a single boring second.  I think by unhesitatingly putting himself at the heart of the work, “Come, And Back Again,” really resonated with the audience.  I left the theater uplifted and more appreciative of the power of art and the importance of family.  Wow.