writers on dancing



Bowen McCauley Dance
Terrace Theater
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
Washington, DC, USA
Wednesday, November 3, 2004

by George Jackson
copyright © 2004 by George Jackson

Most choreographers repeat themselves when a program has five of their pieces, but not Lucy Bowen McCauley. This was her annual big show, and she offered diversity: a symphonic ballet, an expressionist solo, a romantic duet, a comic romp and something else—let's call it a power surge. Three of the works—the solo, the duet and the power surge—were premieres.

The last, titled "Telemetry", had a cast of seven on-stage performers and was made to the live, ultra intensity playing of the band Tone. Ms. McCauley came up with movement that had a force, tension, and impact equal to that of the sound generated by the 8 electro-instrumentalists in the orchestra pit. She structured the dancing strictly, using game formations such as tug-of-war and ballet sequences such as solo, first trio, and second trio as reference points. Her dancers took on the personas of prizefighters. The highpoint of "Telemetry" was a solo, a sustained sequence of lightning bolts and thunder claps or, literally, of slides, thrusts, strides and other combative actions that Elisa Clark delivered with vehemence yet elegance. Ms. Clark dominated the choreography, not just dancing but also while watching the others. Following her exceptional solo, she ruled from the front right corner of the stage, looking like Marlene Dietrich on a 1930s Hollywood set, seated in a director's chair with her back upright and her crown of blonde bobs held high. The others seemed to do her bidding and appeared to be in need of her approval as they cranked up, gear shifted and down loaded pulsations, vibrations, non-Graham contractions and, too, moves recognizable as dance—except for the power employed. The extraordinary energy expended by Alison Crosby, Elizabeth Gaus, Indre Vengris, Sylvana Christopher, Matthew Linzer and Robert Sidney was what Ms. Clark's character expected in her domain.

Ms. McCauley's potent movement for "Telemetry" could be hazardous to execute, and part of the thrill in watching it is kinesthetic, empathizing with the performers. The dancing is not, of course, dangerous to view. Yet with Tone's seismic swells isn't there a chance for causing the audience ear damage? A warning might be appropriate at future performances, although we were told there would not be many. The high cost of live music for live dance was the reason mentioned during the post-performance discussion moderated by Andrea Snyder.

Absent from the stage in her company's recent appearances, Ms. McCauley made a comeback in the solo "Tus Ojos Claros...Santa Lucia". What tempted her? It seems she was seduced by a role unlike the ones she has danced before. The piece is a collaboration with choreographer Jaime Sierra and was made during a working visit to Monterrey, Mexico. Actually, this solo is a sort of trio, with two males assisting, guarding, haunting a troubled woman at the center of the dance. The title suggests that the topic is martyrdom, but the tone of the piece is eerie, like a ghost story's. The woman sleepwalks a narrow plank over a precipice. Safe on the other side, she starts to suffer but doesn't seem fully awake to the experience. Is she still in a trance? Her stare is at nothing visible. She accepts the assistants' help impersonally, as if they were mere manifestations of her mind. Finally she comes to rest on a bench, sitting exhausted between the two males.

A handsomely carved wooden prop, repositioned by the men (Davis Hasty, Mr. Linzer), served as the bridge over the void, as an instrument of torture, and as the bench. "Santa Lucia" is an affective work, even if it left you guessing as to its intent and the connection between Lucia the saint and Lucy the choreographer.

The duet "Resonance", to John Corigliano music, was modernized ballet. Neither the choreography nor Alisa Mandel's costumes showed the dancing couple to advantage. Indre Vengris, although on pointe in this piece, appeared less streamlined than in the simpler costumes she wore in other pieces on the program. Linearity is one of her assets and shouldn't be obscured. She's not, though, a warmly romantic type. Mr. Linzer has an expressive torso but tights make his hips and legs look bulky.

Tackling weighty music (the first movement of Brahms' first piano concerto) with just six dancers takes chutzpah, yet Ms. McCauley's 1999 "Rapture" gives a good idea of what a full blown symphonic ballet's fluid architecture and fickle moods can be. Dramatic streams that surface in the tide of motion might have been delivered more subtly. A woman's portrait now hangs over the dancers. The lighting makes the pictured face look enigmatic at first, then devilish. Finally it fades away. This character's connection to the proceedings isn't very clear. Is she Brahms's Clara or, like the Charlatan's portrait in Petrushka's cell, does the picture represent the choreographer? Mses. Clark, Crosby, Gaus and Vengris were in the cast, as were Mr. Sidney and the able Charles Java. The romp, "For No Good Reason at All", was new earlier this year and illustrates a Hesperus rendering of traditional folk songs.

Ms. McCauley is a staple on the DC dance scene. She's one of the dance makers who emerged from the late Eric Hampton's company and she also performed for the maverick Daniel West. No question that all of the program's five works gave the public variety and the dancers challenges. The strong suites tonight, though, were "Telemetry", "Santa Lucia" and "Rapture".

Volume 2, No. 42
November 8, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by George Jackson


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