Rebecca Rossen and Keith Carollo

at Link’s Hall, June 14-16

Looking Through, Looking On

Scott Putman and Margi Cole

at the Dance Center of Columbia College, June 7 and 8

By Maura Troester

There’s a Zen emptiness to the dances of Rebecca Rossen and Keith Carollo. Both create refreshingly simple choreography–it feels as if they opened a window and let the spring breeze blow in. They don’t so much create dances as let dance happen. The concept is great, but unfortunately the dances don’t always work out. At times their joint concert at Link’s Hall was charming and witty, but often it drifted into nothingness.

Perhaps the evening’s most entertaining aspect was the way Rossen and Carollo allow their personalities to permeate their movement. Carollo isn’t a trained choreographer, just a guy with a passion for unabashed creativity and Fred Astaire. His simple, repetitive choreography betrays his inexperience, but his engaging presence onstage helps compensate for it. He has an uncanny way of moving as if he weren’t really dancing–instead he seems to be working out a math problem and each movement is a step toward its solution. I don’t know if this is a deliberate choice on his part–maybe his concentration is intense because he doesn’t want to mess up the moves.

Rossen is far more experienced, especially in the world of experimental dance. Her lanky body is suitable for ballet. But her experience and choreography are the antithesis of classical dance. She sticks her arms and legs out at quirky angles, folding and unfolding her long body and interrupting the movement’s natural flow and rhythm. Her choreography seems to say, “I know the rules, but I’m not going to follow them.” At times she’s like a little girl performing in the living room for all her aunts and uncles. To dance and be watched–that’s her simple pleasure.

Rossen’s strength is her playfulness and ability to break molds. Her weakness is a lack of editorial skills. Fugue: Concord/Discord is a trio for violin, dancer, and black-and-white film. Rossen plays with the violin and violin case, as if she were trying to find every possible perspective on them: air violin, violin as passionate instrument, violin as golf club, violin case as machine gun, bow as conductor’s baton, bow as rapier. She then layers her choreography with a live performance by violinist Katherine Hughes and two black-and-white films of images from the performance projected onto the back wall. Most of the sections are repetitive and too long. It’s interesting enough to watch a violinist onstage, but it’s boring to watch her play air violin in a long film immediately afterward. Furthermore Rossen rarely sheds light on violins, and when she does, her insights are buried in redundancies.

Carollo too is repetitive. His Peel is charming at first, as if he were enjoying the movement so much he wanted to do it over and over. Choreographed to the smooth, easy rhythms of Faith Evans, Peel is essentially a line dance. Carollo lunges back, puts his feet back together, pivots and lunges to the left, puts his feet back together, pivots and lunges to the right, then repeats the process. Creating a few similar combinations and mixing them up, he moves in a straight line from one point to another between combinations. A second dancer, Mitchell Latuszek, sometimes repeats the movement with him and sometimes just stands around in his gray sweats and high-tops. The purpose of the dance isn’t clear, but both perform it with such a sense of purpose that it remains engaging. Two minutes longer, however, and we’d slip into boredom.

Rossen’s Split has the same airy feeling of carelessness, but it also has a thoughtful complexity. A very angular dance, it begins with four dancers standing in a row along the front of the stage, legs spread, right arm out straight, left arm at the side. The movement that follows is stiff, stopping and starting as if a machine were bending and straightening according to some bureaucratic plan. This style is occasionally interrupted by fluid segments in which the arms curve gently and one movement flows into the next. The dancers perform Split well, but it seems to be missing a through line.

The Secret of Shadow Ranch, a short solo by Carollo, was allegedly inspired by an old Nancy Drew mystery (there’s even a quote from the book in the program), but the dance has nothing to do with its title. Carollo belts a plastic-covered cushion to his behind, squats, does a backward somersault, then launches into a series of movements he repeats over and over until the song (Nina Simone’s “I’ve Put a Spell on You”) ends. It’s short. That’s good.

Tide, Whatever closes the evening. A collaboration between Rossen and Carollo, it has three sections “named respectively,” a program note says, “after the exciting advantages of new Ultra-Tide over the leading brand: 1) Performance, 2) Smaller Package, and 3) Convenience.” Again, great concept, but the execution is lacking. It seemed that segments from earlier dances had been cut and pasted into this one. Carollo’s pivots from Peel reappeared; Rossen’s angular arm and leg movements dominated. Though it was interesting to see two choreographers so comfortable just being onstage, by the time this dance rolled around, their being seemed to fade into nothingness.

Like Rossen and Carollo, choreographers Margi Cole and Scott Putman are relatively new to their craft. Both left the cozy confines of university training within the past five years, and both are still trying out their wings. In “Looking Through, Looking On,” a joint alumni concert presented by the Dance Center of Columbia College, sometimes the wind caught their wings and they soared a bit, and sometimes they wobbled valiantly toward their ideas. Each choreographer created some interesting moments, some emotionally clear and insightful moments, and some beautiful moments. But neither managed to string these into a meaningful whole.

Stylistically the two couldn’t be more different. Putman’s choreography is elegant and well composed. His long-limbed dancers are professionals trained in jazz dance and classical ballet; their carriage brings out the cleanness of his movement. Cole doesn’t seem interested in pretty dances: her choreography springs from the groin and cuts itself short with brisk staccato movements or bent limbs that direct the energy back into the body. Many of Cole’s dancers are studying modern dance at the Dance Center; their bodies are of various shapes and sizes. Their presence is much more human than Putman’s dancers’ but less developed artistically.

Putman’s From Where I Sit was billed as a musing on the fact that different people can have different perspectives on the same situation, but that idea never came clear. To begin, the dramatic context isn’t well defined. The work opens in silence with nine dancers resting on the floor, each covered by a square cloth. One by one, each person wakes another and ceremoniously drapes the cloth over his or her shoulder. When the last person is about to be awakened, the woman walks off instead and leaves him alone with no cape. This segues into a forlorn solo (well executed by Wilfredo Rivera); there’s a certain beauty in its loneliness, but it doesn’t really go anywhere else emotionally. Next is a light, joyful dance for five women. This charming, well-constructed section is followed by a strong, gentle one for the four men, full of clever lifts, suspensions, and falls. Between sections, a dancer ventures to the front corner of the stage and with great ceremony places a cape on the floor. But the big unanswered question throughout is “Why?” Since the dance doesn’t answer this question, it eventually wanders off into prettiness and grows tiresome.

Cole’s choreography also suffers from the big question “What’s your point?” A Myriad is a duet for man and woman, a battle of the sexes in which the man wants to be more like the woman and the woman wants to be more like the man but neither is willing to allow that switch. It’s an interesting concept, and the way Cole treats it is rather cute, but I’m not sure that was her intention. In the middle, the music suddenly changes into an upbeat blues-rock mode, and what began as a meaningful concept disintegrates into an exploration of movement for its own sake.

Cole’s Womensong is also interesting conceptually but underdeveloped choreographically. A dance for six women, it seems to want to roll up into itself. If the dancers crawl, they drag themselves on one elbow and pull their legs behind. If they stand and extend their limbs, their elbows and knees are always bent. Cole does an excellent job of capturing a pure emotion. But the choreography is limited to a number of key moves recycled over and over, and the dance just seems to go around and around in a depressing, tired spiral. At the end the dancers do stand and face the audience in a feeble show of strength. But by this time it’s too late. The strength should have been developed in the choreography, not tacked on at the last minute.