at Link’s Hall, July 23 and 24

The fine-art grounding of modern dance is easy to see in the works of young choreographers, whose dances tend to be serious. The better works can approach the sublime, while the worse can be too portentous. Though the dances choreographed by Kathleen Aharoni, Ann Boyd, Colleen Halloran, and Scott Putman, performed at Link’s Hall, were never so serious as to be in bad taste, they seldom showed the natural, easygoing wit of the joint improvisation they performed about halfway through the program.

A path across the floor and a basic movement had been selected in advance, then the group of eight dancers asked the audience for suggestions for an emotion and a task. They huddled briefly, then started an improvised dance that moved in spasms along the chosen path like an out-of-balance washing machine. The movements were quick and graceful, and at times just silly. A man (Raven S. Wilder) picked up a woman (Boyd) and held her like a sack of laundry; when she suddenly started to flap her arms like wings, it looked for a few moments as if his laundry were about to take off. This improvisation was filled with tiny moments, lasting only a few seconds, that were dropped and then picked up in an altered form a few minutes later. Its simplicity was charming.

The best dance was Putman’s Venation, a men’s quartet performed by Krenly Guzman, Troy Knight, Putman, and Wilder. This formal work, a theme and variations, demands a great deal of skill from the dancers. Its themes are body shapes with clear forking lines–perhaps a reference to the title, which refers to a system of veins. The main pleasure of the dance is kinetic–it’s not often we get to see four male dancers so excellent, and Putman has created new lifts that require great strength from both partners. The emotion the dance creates accumulates slowly: instead of threatening violent discharge, it rises up to a sort of perch from which to see great distances. This rising curve of emotion is due in part to Chicagoan Steve Hadley’s synthesizer score, which mixes sad melodies with sirens and roars.

In Boyd’s solo 6 7 9 King Queen, the seriousness of the young choreographer takes the form of many dramatic moments shaped carefully and performed with absolute conviction. Unfortunately, those moments don’t gel into a drama. They suggest a story, but there aren’t enough clues to establish one. The dance opens with Boyd vamping slightly to Duke Ellington’s tune “Minnie the Moocher” (part of David Marine’s sound collage). A side door opens, throwing light onto the darkened stage while the sound of a clock’s ticking begins. That moment ends, undeveloped, and Boyd goes on to another set of movements, including one striking motion that might be sweeping the floor or stirring a cauldron, to a blues tune with clever lyrics by Greg Ballmann. Again, Boyd’s character is unclear. The dance ends with a series of tragic moments and the sound of a clock ticking.

Boyd also dances Aharoni’s untitled solo, but to less effect. Aharoni sets the stage with three sheets of sheer muslin, stretched from the ceiling to the floor, that give the space a delicate feeling but also block the audience’s view at times. In the first section Boyd stands behind a backlit piece of muslin so that we see only her shadow on the cloth. She moves her hips slowly and seductively, then collapses suddenly as the sound of a train comes up on Halloran’s sound score. When Boyd appears from behind the cloth, she moves quickly around the space, sometimes using a hand on the floor for propulsion. The sections of rapid movement alternate with slower, more pedestrian sections, such as when Boyd slowly undoes her hair. As in Boyd’s 6 7 9 King Queen, the bits don’t add up to anything.

Halloran’s Caught Up in My Life With Sister was the most down-to-earth piece of the concert. As Halloran recalls aloud her childhood competition with her sister, two dancers (Meredith Bristol and Carol MacLeod) act out the competition in athletic movement–handstands and slides across the floor on their knees–and mimed movement, such as the spitting contest that starts the dance. It’s enjoyable stuff. Halloran has made several dances like this, and I usually like her wry narratives, but here the narrative seems too simple, like Cliffs Notes for a dance. I enjoyed the athletic movement, and would be curious to see Caught Up without the text.

Most of the choreographers, dancers, and composers in this concert are products of Columbia College in one way or another. Besides seriousness, they clearly demonstrated here a great deal of craft–using dramatic and formal movement, text and sound collages, and improvisation. But perhaps the most valuable thing they’ve learned is that in the creative process each choreographer has her own character and concerns and must take her own approach.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Tony Cifani.