Excerpts from Wonderland, Blush
Lansburgh Theatre, Washington, DC; April 16, 2015
CityDance, along with Washington Performing Arts, hosted a residency by Brooklyn-based Gallim Dance and presented a performance that included CityDance students performing excerpts from a work choreographed by Gallim Dance’s artistic director Andrea Miller. Miller’s Israeli-inspired choreography proved challenging for the students, but exposing them to new challenges is surely what CityDance intended when it invited the company to set professional repertory on its young dancers.
CityDance’s students performed excerpts from Wonderland, a very grown-up work, despite the high-pitched squeals of dancers singing the opening song of the old Mickey Mouse Club TV show. The grins and giggles, and the music, are grating; probably purposefully so. Decked in gray costumes by Jose Solis that resemble wrestling outfits, some in headgear with wild tufts of hair erupting through, the cast eventually trades silliness for solemnity. A body is dragged, while a flock of dancers stares, before a series of performers swap the role of the lifeless body, dashing up and quickly exchanging places.
The young cast did their best to convey the atmosphere called for by the choreography and to properly execute Miller’s demanding movement. Unfortunately, the choreography didn’t show off the talent of the students terribly well. Even Miller’s own company members, many of whom appear to be only a handful of years older, sometimes struggled to bring Miller’s choreographic visions to life.
In Blush, six white powder-covered members of Gallim Dance further evoke wrestling themes. The movement also conjures martial arts and even Butoh. In black costumes by Solis, with sweat making trails of reddish pink through their pale powdered skin, the dancers look like zombie ninjas.
Miller seems to like working with aggressive athletic imagery, and she pushes her dancers to a point beyond exhaustion. Interestingly, things pick up considerably when exhaustion begins to set in. In the end, I warmed to the exuberant flinging. Overall, her choreography, which I assume draws heavily on her time with Israel’s superb Batsheva Dance Company, captivated. The members of her company, Gallim Dance, however, didn’t quite keep pace with what I suspect Miller hopes to achieve. I spied several moments when the dancers ought to have been moving in unison and weren’t. Had the dancers been more precise, and had the movement been more controlled even in its fascinating freedom, Blush would have come across as a much stronger piece.
Blush takes a while to take off. An eclectic assortment of music accompanies the dancing, from plaintive electronic peeps to thumping growls to Chopin and the ubiquitous Arvo Part. Dancers fold and unfold themselves like origami, upper bodies twisting to exaggerated degrees. The dancers run with hunched backs, bent over like they’ve been knocked in the gut. Sometimes they crawl, or collapse on the floor. Frequently, they propel themselves upward in awkward splayed leaps, like a frightened cat jumping into the air. At times the dancers appear sick or drugged because of the multiple ways in which they fall into each other.