Dallas — At the opening work of Bruce Wood Dance Project’s latest concert SIX, if Joy Atkins Bollinger’s Carved in Stone didn’t stir you Friday night at Dallas City Performance Hall, you have to be a troglodyte.
For someone a complete novice in the art form of choreography, Bollinger provided one of the most beautiful dances imaginable. Yes, she drew heavily on her mentor Bruce Wood’s love of glorious lifts, silky pas de deux, simple hand and arm gestures, understatement and the gift of building to a stirring climax.
But Carved in Stone was hers entirely, not a copy, not a derivative. She is the poet of dance, the Keats and Shelley of our time.
The ballet starts calm and simple, slowly builds into a stirring mass of sea-like creatures in waves, into simple pas de deux that grow more reckless, into a grand—very grand—set of lifts, runs, and starbursts, only to end like a sigh, 24 dancers with their backs to us, their stretched-out arms falling slowly in one long exhalation of breath.
To be more specific about what transpired, here’s a longer description: Carved in Stoneopens in a gray fog. Near the back stand three Greek Doric columns in ruins. On the other side, another column lies fallen on the ground. Shelley’s Ozymandias comes to mind, “Nothing beside remains.” Just in front of the standing columns, strange forms are visible. Gradually, we realize they are human, slumped forward. Beautiful, haunting music from The Chopin Project wafts over the stage.
Clad in long, pale-blue, silky dresses or skirts that flare at the side, the human forms begin to move—lifting their heads, opening up an arm, twisting to the side, bobbling. In a mass, they leave the spot and fall in a heap, moving like sea creatures while the one dancer upright (Brock James Henderson) walks over them only to be pulled into the churning mass. We are witnessing a kind of birth, for soon Albert Drake is bounding, turning, sliding and leaping in a discovering of the universe. When Emily Perry shows up, the two look at each other in wonder, touch fingers to face, and move together in tandem.
Then we watch as David Escoto approaches Kimi Nikaidoh as she stands in ballet fifth position, one arm out. Like Pygmalion, he gently rotates the arm into a new position, leading her away from the rigors of classical ballet into something more curved and rounded. He treats her like putty, swinging her up and over again and again.
Others join in and soon the stage is filled with a flowing, surging, rushing mass, women thrown high in the air at all angles, sparks flying everywhere. It is both giddy and hauntingly beautiful, a paean to youth and promise. Suddenly, the stage fills with yet 12 more dancers, and they run and tumble and cascade, shooting upward, spinning in all directions. It was so glorious it made you cry—and how often does a ballet have that effect (well, a number of Bruce Wood’s pieces, but hardly anyone else’s).
And then it suddenly subsides, in a sigh.
Carlos Castillo’s wonderful sets, Tony Tucci’s subdued lighting, and John Ahrens’ flowing costumes—combined with dancers who move like ribbons and Ms. Bollinger’s sublime choreography—made this a dance of the ages.
After Carved in Stone, pity the act to follow. But the other premiere, Andy and Dionne Noble’s Skin was quite clever—maybe too clever—strange and puzzling and intriguing all at once. Moody and dark, it consisted of four sections that seemed to be cut and sliced into odd pieces. The music consists in part of “Rewritten Beethoven,” some Max Richter, some Four Hands, ranging from serene to tempestuous.
It opens on a promising note: a shimmering sheet of what looks like iridescent silk (actually, strips of Saran wrap) hang from above to reach the floor. Inside this cocoon, something moves and grows larger, like that of a mirage or ultrasound of a fetus. Almost hidden from view, Mallory Ketch lies curled up in fetal position. She stirs, jerks, flounders. The sheet slowly moves upward. Near Ms. Ketch, three dancers (Lauren Gonzales, Emily Perry and Austin Sora) struggle to pull off the saran wrap that binds them from head to hips, like snakes sheading their skin, chicks breaking out of their shell. Free, they wobble on unsure feet, lurch and shutter.
You would think from this rite of birth that what will follow with be some confident, athletic dancing. (Think of how Balanchine’s Apollo, bound in swaddling cloths, hops and suddenly spins free.) Nothing like this occurs for a long time, for all ten dancers stumble and lurch and convulse in a deliberately awkward way.
At times, they suggest nothing very human, crawling on all fours and kicking a back leg out from time to time. They lumber like elephants.
And then there is a sudden change. Six men (Eric Coudron, Mr. Drake, Mr. Escoto, Mr. Henderson, Néstor Pérez and Gabriel Speiller) stride in carrying ropes (again, strongly bound Saran wrap), slap the floor, wrap the ropes them around their legs, and surge with the strength and purpose of warriors. Ms. Gonzales tears in, grabs one the ropes, and from then on it’s a mêlée of sorts, with thrilling grabs, and runs and lifts and pulls with the ropes holding everyone together.
How all of this fits together in a coherent whole is a mystery.
On a giddy note, the program closed with Bruce Wood’s Anything Goes, capturing the wit and playfulness of Cole Porter’s music with equal wit and playfulness. Everyone looked and danced with sublime style.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.