Chamber Dance Company
University of Washington’s Meany Hall – Katharyn Alvord Gerlich Theater
October 13, 2019, afternoon
Falling Program: Concerto Grosso, Mourner’s Bench, First Fall, Canonic 3/4 Studies
I always look forward to the annual showing of UW’s Chamber Dance Company’s show. CDC is unique in that it recreates and stages authentic historic dances from modern and contemporary canon since its founding by Artistic Director Hannah C. Wiley. These dances range in date from 1945 to 2012 and from well-known names such as Mark Morris and Martha Graham to other lesser-known but important figures such as Ethel Winter (who can be seen in the excellent educational Graham film from 1957, A Dancer’s World, where she does the most exquisite and controlled unsupported arabesque penché). (Winter herself was considered a “dancer’s dancer.”)
Today’s program included four pieces, each a strong choreographic offering: José Limón’s Concerto Grosso (1945), a lovely trio for two women and one man. I can never get enough Limón — his dances are creative, well composed, clear, and have a good depth to them. Real choreography with real dancing; there’s no faking here. It’s the real stuff. Excellent interpretation by its dancers Molly Griffin, Julia James, and Brian Lawson.
1947’s Mourner’s Bench created by Talley Beatty, inspired by Martha Graham’s Lamentation (done sitting on a bench) is a man’s solo beautifully and lovingly performed by Yebel Gallegos done to the Spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gilead” with musicians Stephanie Anne Johnson (vocalist) and Paul Moore (piano). I enjoyed Beatty’s inventive use of the bench set — cantilevering the body of the dancer, for example, using pressure of legs wrapped under the bench so Gallegos could undulate up and down in an expressive manner. I would classify this excerpt from a larger work as a masterwork.
Brian Brooks is a choreographer new to me and his duet, First Fall, was made for New York City Ballet dancer Wendy Whelan in 2012 and explored territory new to Whelan — contemporary dance and having a partner to “fall” into. Dancers Jo Blake and Adele Nickel (who looks to me like Whelan) got into the soul of the work right away and continued this feeling to the end. The female part comes across as a person who looks uncertain or a bit lost and uses (leaning, falling into and on) the male partner (Blake) to navigate her way through this uncharted (for her) territory. While created by Brooks, I would say it’s biographical, depicting one end of Whelan’s career (in ballet) and the start of another.
If we had to come up with a “Mark Morris 101,” I think it would have to be his 1982 Canonic 3/4 Studies with wonderful musical arrangement by the equally wonderful and iconoclastic Harriet Cavalli to scores by Czerny, Glière, Theodore Lack, and Moritz Moszkowski. This work shows off Morris’s insouciant wit, scalable and structured clarity of choreography and his much written-about musicality. You can expect the unexpected such as leaps that go backward (and forward) being caught by a guy (during trio), fun patterns, and how he uses the cast, breaking them up into various groupings, and a nice arc to the dance itself. Bravas to the pianist, Bathsheba Marcus, who tackled the difficulty of the score with ease and power that I associate with its first interpreter, Cavalli herself. While it may be one of Morris’s earliest dances, it is also one of his best.
A fun and yummy program, replete with dances and artists of substance, excellent choreography and concepts, lovingly brought to life by the team of dancers, stagers, and coaches. My only regret is that Chamber Dance emerges on stage only once a year.