Dixon Place Theater, New York, NY; November 7, 2014

Amy Campbell and Leighann Curd in 'Heliocentris'.  Photo © Andrew Mauney

Amy Campbell and Leighann Curd in ‘Heliocentris’.
Photo © Andrew Mauney

Jerry Hochman

Every company, it seems, is celebrating an anniversary of some sort this year. Now comes Inclined Dance Project, giving its Fifth Anniversary performance, including two premieres, at Dixon Place Theater on Christie Street, at the western edge of the Lower East Side. Emerging companies tend to have a long infancy, but five years is a milestone nonetheless, and this performance marks a milestone as well.

You wouldn’t know that IDP is still in its infancy from this performance. Artistic Director Kristen Klein’s style can’t be easily pigeon-holed, and the company’s roster of dancers, which has been relatively stable for at least the past two years, is as eclectic and accomplished as are Ms. Klein’s dances – and not having cookie-cutter-looking dancers is a plus; their physical and emotional texture adds to the visual impact of her choreography. But what particularly impressed me is the polish that the dance demonstrated. This is a seasoned group that knows exactly what it’s doing every step of the way, and it showed.

The evening’s major event was the premiere of Ms. Klein’s “Heliocentris”, a complex work that explores relationships between bodies in space; outer space, not stage space (although spatial relationships are a natural component of the staging). The program notes describe the piece as “an exploration derived from the mechanics and phenomenon of outer space, inspired by the spectacles of the universe” – which is an apt summary. But this description would lead one to believe that this was a concept piece, a ‘study’, that might be interesting to choreograph, but dry and not particularly entertaining for an audience. This was not the case.

As she does so well for a still nascent choreographer, Ms. Klein here has put together a dance with a defined structure that may be programmed to look random, but, like the physical movement of the universe, isn’t. There is some repetition of images, but only at strategic moments. And the dance is circular – that is, it begins with a particular image, and, after exploring various permutations, returns to that image (or something similar) at the end.

Although the outer-space theme is clear (particularly as reflected in the collage of sounds assembled by Ms. Klein, consisting of music by Ty Burhoe, Max Richter, Ezio Bosso, and satellite recordings of space), the piece is abstract, and the dancers are not obvious representations of some specific ‘thing’. Indeed, what these images specifically are supposed to represent, if anything, seems less important than the overall flow of movement in the stage universe through the passage of time, movement that may seem constant and seamless to an outside viewer, but which consists of a variety of component movement parts – often violent forces – that Ms. Klein captures with differing movement qualities – one moment angular; another more fluid; or most often an indescribable combination of the two.

There’s an air of celestial mystery to “Heliocentris” for that reason, as the viewer explores what Ms. Klein is showing without knowing exactly what it represents, much like a viewer looking into space, with or without telescope, might explore images without knowing what they are. And these celestial bodies are costumed (by Ms. Klein) such that their tight-fitting celestial skin is enshrouded by loose-fitting, diaphanous material, each a different ‘dark space’ color. Consequently, each dancer has the appearance of a celestial object surrounded by clouds, or, collectively, like parts of the universe enveloped by some fuzzy celestial haze (the Milky Way; Black Stars; distant constellations), as the universe’s component parts often appear to be. And attention to detail is as significant with respect to Ms. Klein’s costumes as it is to her choreography: each of these diaphanous ‘masses’ is outlined, on the edges, in a bright colors – much as telescopic photographs appear to show bright colors outlining the perimeters of celestial forms.

The dance begins with the cast of six women (Amy Campbell, Christina Chelette, Leighann Curd, Chie Mukai, Morgana Phlaum, and Jennifer Radcliffe) slowly circling around some central force. The image of erect but partially posed circling dancers clothed in loosely fitting outer garments brought to mind a Greco/Roman frieze in motion, or the images of dancers captured in different positions ‘in motion’ on some art nouveau u vase. This moving image could represent planets rotating around the sun; a swirling galaxy; or, more likely, matter pre-Big Bang.From this opening, the dancers break out into celestial component parts, and the dance thereafter continues with solos, duets, trios. The dances have an overall similarity – but they’re not nearly identical. It’s as if Ms. Klein is personifying the unique character of each celestial form.

Jennifer Radcliffe, Chie Mukai, and Christina Chelette in 'Heliocentris'. Photo © Andrew Mauney

Jennifer Radcliffe, Chie Mukai, and Christina Chelette in ‘Heliocentris’.
Photo © Andrew Mauney

The first dancer, the one who, at the outset, was the force around which the other dancers were circling, is Ms. Mukai. She is pictured as a controlling force of sorts; reaching out with her arms as if trying to keep the other celestial objects/forces/dancers close. From time to time other dancers return to her, as if pulled by gravity, but then break off again. Later, in another solo, Ms. Curd moves feverishly, as if desperately trying to remain in existence – the soul of a collapsing black star, perhaps. Eventually, she’s lifted up by another dancer (Ms. Campbell), and, her energy spent, is carried off.

Other dancers follow in various permutations. For example, Ms. Chelette is first briefly alone and then joined by others, as if together creating a new celestial form. The piece never allows one dancer to remain alone too long: just like celestial bodies constantly move through the universe; Ms. Klein’s dancers’ bodies move through the stage, sometimes hooking up, celestially, with others; sometimes just passing through. Each dancer did quality work, but I particularly enjoyed the solos by Ms. Curd and Ms. Campbell (one very tall and thin, the other powerful and dramatic) and Ms. Phlaum, whose solo I found especially interesting. Ms. Phlaum is the smallest and slightest dancer in the group, and her solo was long, arduous, and slow – almost tortured. I thought of a gymnast trying to maintain control on a balance beam as I watched her. She seemed to have some problems with it; a bit wobbly and uncertain, although there were no obvious mistakes. And then I realized that perhaps this was Ms. Klein’s intent, perfectly captured by Ms. Phlaum, because the lightness, the hesitation, and the ultimate successful follow-through would have been an appropriate representation of the arduous birth of a new star.

The piece’s closing image is a mirror of its opening. Gravitational pull, or some other force, prevails; the celestial components return to circling around a central force, perhaps preparing for the next Big Bang: the continuing universal expansion and contraction; ebb and flow.

My only criticism of the piece (aside from wondering why the dancers wore socks), is that it went on too long. There was a point where the dancers returned to their original circling, which I thought was the piece’s conclusion, but then the dancers split off again and the dance continued. I appreciate that the repetitive coming together and splitting apart and then coming together again has a purpose, but once probably would have been sufficient.

“Babble”, the program’s other premiere, is a similar representation of an idea, and perhaps just as cosmic in subject matter significance as “Heliocentris”, but it’s smaller and more focused, and at times, sadly funny.

Chie Mukai and Kristen Klein in 'Babble'.  Photo © Andrew Mauney

Chie Mukai and Kristen Klein in ‘Babble’.
Photo © Andrew Mauney

As the program note describes (“What if our ability to communicate was suddenly…lost?”) and the dance’s title implies, this is a piece about communication, and the inability to understand. At varying times each of the three performers (Ms. Chelette, Ms. Mukai, and Ms. Klein herself) dances as if hearing a private thought, or music that only she can hear. Each attempts to communicate this input (the choreographed dancing is the language of choice), but can’t be understood. One or another character makes an effort to try to learn the others’ languages, and at times there’s some success, but ultimately the attempts fail, and the women are left scratching their heads or, raising the arms (or, at the end, their legs as they collapse, defeated) skyward as if in frustration or seeking the intervention of some superior being.

As described, the piece sounds trivial – a limited exploration of a limited idea. But most dances that have some underlying theme are like that, and this one is put together well, says what it has to say and stops, and the dancers did a fine job with it.

The evening opened with a repeat performance of last year’s premiere, “Ringer”, then presented on the “Six Degrees of Separation” program. Ms. Phlaum and Ms. Radcliffe repeated their previous roles; Ms. Campbell and Ms. Curd were new to it.

Performances by emerging companies don’t have the bells and whistles of more established companies. There are no sets; lighting design is minimal; and costumes often are what the dancers themselves put together based on the choreographer’s broad specifications. But with a gifted choreographer and motivated and capable dancers, as is the case with IDP, bells and whistles aren’t really necessary.