THEARC Theater, Washington, DC
October 23, 2016
Gin Dance Company, led by Taiwanese-born founder and Artistic Director Shu-Chen Cuff, is not named for the drink, but for part of Cuff’s given name, bestowed on her by her father, which means “real,” “truthful,” and “sincere.” Her dancers and her dances indeed appear earnest. I became familiar with Cuff as a dancer with Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company, before she founded her own dance company. She’s an exceedingly lovely dancer, and so it was sad to hear her tell the audience in opening remarks that she would be unable to dance with her dancers, as she remains in recovery from an injury. It may be that Cuff’s dancing days are coming to an end, but if that’s the case, she has a bright future ahead as a choreographer. And her company is looking strong.
In this season opener, titled Inner Voice, Gin Dance Company combined forces with DancEthos, led by founding Artistic Director choreographer Tiffany Haughn. Both are relatively new dance companies, with Gin Dance Company having been founded in 2011, and DancEthos in 2010. The two companies have a lot in common. In addition to being young contemporary dance companies, both seem to lean toward the use of classical music, often of the 21st century variety. The dance styles of the choreographers meld together well, too. Cuff and Haughn appear to favor contemplative movement, with an emphasis on connectivity.
Inner Voice began with Lost and Found, a work by Cuff to music by Philip Glass, Hans Zimmer, and Nico Murphy. The dancers, in dark pantsuits and heels, wheeled suitcases and swung shoulder bags. Projected behind them were paintings by Teri Ann LaBuwi. City scenes predominated. Yellow blurs recalled taxis passing by. Six dancers maneuvered around, pausing and posing, rushing then waiting. I wondered how long they would keep the heels on. The heels did come off eventually. What confused me was when the projections behind the dancers changed to photos of children with their families. I assumed the photos were photos from the dancers’ own childhoods. But why? The dancing at this point seemed slower, more melancholic. There were lyrical sweeping turns. Was it childhood that was lost?
I have no idea why there was an intermission after the very first piece, as it was not anywhere near the midpoint of the concert. Nevertheless, Act I consisted only of Lost and Found. Act II started off with a new piece choreographed by Haughn for Gin Dance Company called 1 by 1. Four dancers in long gray sleeveless tunics and dark footless tights circled and swayed to music by Zoë Keating. Sometimes they faced each other in a circle, sometimes their backs were to each other and they faced away. In a repeated movement, they covered an eye with one hand, and their upper chest with the other. I didn’t get a good sense of what this abbreviated dance was about. Another new work, Zoom In, was performed by DancEthos and choreographed by Cuff. Rather like 1 by 1 by Haughn, the movement was pleasant enough, but Zoom In didn’t seem to add up to anything. The four dancers in Zoom In wore gossamer green blouses over shorts. Strings from the Safri Duo accompanied them. I enjoyed a section in which the dancers moved in slow motion, swinging their arms, like they were models strutting the catwalk on the moon.
Another Haughn work, from 2014, Convergence, is a duet that I’d seen before and admired. It was performed touchingly by DancEthos dancers Jenny T. Flemingloss and Catherine Keller. I often object to the use of props in dance, especially chairs, and especially if all the dancers do is stand on them, and then step off of them. In Convergence, the dancers use a picnic-type bench, but the uses are so creative and varied and interesting, the prop actually elevates the dancing. I also often object to using music by Arvo Pärt, simply because it seems like all choreographers are using his music. Yet here, in this hauntingly beautiful duet, I didn’t mind. The bench, on a tilt, held by one dancer, became a wall onto which the other dancer jumped, clung, and slid down. To me, the duet spoke volumes about partnership and friendship. The dancers trusted and supported each other. A leg of one dancer rested on the other’s chest, then on her back. One dancer gripped the other’s ankles, and later took hold of a toe in arabesque. The embrace and turning away at the end pierced my heart.
I felt the best work on the program was Solitaire, choreographed by Cuff. Perhaps Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments was an inspiration? The dance featured four solos by four female dancers: Tenacious, Indifferent, Cognitive, and Endearing. Each was powerful and full of personality. Between the solos dancers held portraits of themselves, about half the size of their bodies, waist high, in front of them. Although the solos were distinct, there were elements that they each shared. There was a precise, clear quality to the movement, yet the dancing was remarkably pliant. The dancers extended themselves into each moment. Their timing and theatricality were exquisite, their technique polished. The dignity of women, somehow, really showed through. Although each dancer was entirely immersed in her own world, each effectively projected her world into the world of the audience. My only issue with Solitaire was the abrupt ending. A tweak that would wrap the piece together would seal the deal for me.
The premiere of Hello! Goodbye! by Cuff was much less successful. Cuff’s impulse to use humor when choreographing to Mozart is a good one, but the clowning around went too far. In brightly colored costumes, with bows on their heads, ballerinas pushed, shoved, giggled, chased, and sobbed. Instead of being sassy, it came across as silly. Comic ballets just don’t agree with me, in general, although I appreciated having something different to close the program.