at the Harold Washington Library Theatre

May 8 and 9

The opening images of Rosemary Doolas’s premiere, Allez Pleurer Comme des Hommes (“Go Cry Like Men”), come from World War II footage of tanks burning and Paris being liberated. The soft black-and-white film is filled with celebrating Parisians: women in simple dresses against limestone balustrades, a cluster of people around a black man dancing a jig. When the film is over and the dancers start dancing, we slowly see that what we had thought were nostalgic images of Paris were really these very dancers, and that “Paris” was Grant Park south of Congress. It’s a lovely visual trick. Doolas’s dance tries to evoke the delirium of that historical moment through the film and through Jacques Brel’s songs, but the choreographer’s response, her dominating mood, is too lyric and abstract to find the flavor of that time.

Doolas responds most fully to Brel’s song “La valse a mille temps” (“Carousel”) and its image of life as a giddy ride. Doolas’s vision is large–life as carousel, as cyclical meaninglessness–but her response to her vision is disappointingly small. Though she tries to express peaks of feeling, she fails to carefully build up the detail that could have communicated those feelings.

Doolas’s gusting emotions find their best form in a pure dance work, Abstract, inspired by Frank E. Warren’s lovely original score for violin, viola, and cello. Doolas does not illustrate the music with movement but follows the music’s dynamics and resolution. The dance begins with two women (Ruth Klotzer and Dawn Herron) in burnt orange dresses moving across the stage in short bursts with deep side arches. A woman in orange tights and leotard (Balinda Craig-Quijada) mimes bringing water to her mouth while she is bent horizontally at the waist. A man (John Lisiecki) lets loose with a tremendous assemble to land between the women wearing dresses. The underlit stage and vivid color of the costumes convey a mood of unease and suggest a confessional dance about the choreographer’s inner emotional struggle: she pits the woman in tights against the others. But no such narrative emerges; instead Doolas fills the stage with her characteristic swooping and twirling movement. The climax of the music brings the four dancers into a unison quartet in a gracious, affecting close.

Doolas has a restricted but potentially expressive movement vocabulary. A dancer might fall out of an attitude arabesque–straight from ballet class–into a backward twirl with an arched upper back and extended arm. Although Doolas likes ballet movements, she’s not drawn to the straight torso, arms, and legs of ballet but prefers the arched and distorted spine of modern dance. These dancers weren’t quite capable of performing some of Doolas’s balletic movement, but otherwise they were the strongest I’ve seen in this company.

An older work, A Scape, has almost no music. Five dancers in white (Julie Brodie, Herron, Debra Janes, Lisiecki, and Louis Miller) begin clustered in the center of the stage. One slowly stretches into a deep lunge, as if to kiss the ground. One or two heads turn, then all the dancers burst in slow motion out of the circle into attitude arabesques. A film by Norman Magden appears on the rear wall, showing the dancers standing clustered at the center of the stage. The dancers on the film are so huge that they seem to hang over the live dancers, alternately threatening and kind. At first the film dancers lag behind the live ones, but slowly they catch up. The moment when the film and live dancers synchronize satisfies in an unexpected way.

Allez Pleurer Comme des Hommes combines all these elements–film, evocative music, abstract and lyric dance–but they don’t add up to a better dance. Doolas’s choice of Brel’s music seems dubious; Brel’s songs veer uncomfortably close to kitsch, and their narrative impulse seems to squash Doolas’s characteristic movement: pedestrian motions and mime are her primary tools in the final sections. The beginning sections highlight the dancers; a balletic solo danced well by Janes to “Mon enfance” (“My Childhood”) is followed by an acrobatic solo for Lisiecki in “La statue.” The middle sections feature a veteran dancer, Mark Strand, as well as a newcomer, Marc Wayne. Unfortunately, the many elements did not add up to much; only the last section, “Carousel,” with its cracked calliope waltz and dancers doing barrel turns in a circle, communicated something to me.

Louis Miller, a company member, has begun choreographing, and in a style much different from Doolas’s. Miller likes odd, quirky movements, like fluttering hands that slap against a dancer’s cheeks, or a bent leg lifted very high in parallel position over angular arms. The movements seem specific to each dancer’s body: they may be a dancer’s signature oddity, which no other dancer can reproduce. In Koh Sahn Road, Miller strings these quirky movements together on a vaguely oriental theme, using both traditional Thai music and a song from the art rock band Dead Can Dance. Miller has not yet developed a sense of overall structure, so the dance meanders. But it seems a genial trip, with Miller as an abstracted tour guide, tugging at his lower lip and listening to some inner music before he begins to speak.