writers on dancing


New Works from Sensedance

By Susan Reiter
copyright ©2005 by Susan Reiter

[choreography by Henning Rubsam]
Baruch Performing Arts Center
New York, NY
October 16, 2005

There was much to admire in the 90 minutes of dancing Henning Rubsam offered at this unfamiliar subterranean performance space—pleasant, thoughtful classical choreography that did not attempt to overreach; scrupulous dancing; the occasional dash of whimsy. There was the appealing bonus of the opportunity to see several leading dancers from the on-extended-hiatus Dance Theater of Harlem: Melissa Morrissey and Ramon Thielen, who had performed with Rubsam before, and Andrea Long, who was new to his choreography.

The program began unpretentiously with "Chorale," a duet created last year for Morrissey and Thielen, whose compact bodies blend wonderfully. Set to wistful, Spanish-tinged piano music by Ricardo Lorca, it was a clear, directly presentational duet in which intricate partnering was suffused with mild melancholy. The dancers wore gleaming white leotards and tights, and several times Rubsam seemed to be alluding to "Apollo"—when Thielen seemed to guiding Morrissey early on, and when she posed on his back in the celebrated "swimming lesson" pose.

The partnering was intricate, sometimes to a suffocating degree, and tended to make the dancers look overly deliberate as they navigated smoothly and almost meditatively through it, and the choreography occasionally hit photo-op moments rather than accumulate a sense of flow. The delicate, beautifully centered Morrissey and quietly intense Thielen maneuvered through their intimate positions dispassionately and with pristine clarity.

For quite a while, the dancers wound around each other in these lifts without covering much space. When they separated, the movement remained quite academic, and they were soon pulled back together for swooping lifts in which she landed on his back or shoulders, before they came to rest one behind the other, arms framing their faces, as a circle of light closed in on them.

Rubsam excerpted the central male duet from his 2001 "Brahms Double Concerto" for himself and Dartanion Reed, a mercurial, engaging dancer with a juicy attack who had made an impression in ABT's corps before leaving the company in 2004. Wearing white tank tops and black trunks, the men share partnering duties very equally, so that the balance of power between them keeps shifting, and they become both complimentary and competitive figures. They take turns stepping carefully over each other's prone bodies, forming a bench on which the other can sit and swivel across. At times, Rubsam seems to be aiming for the heartfelt, tender tone, which leads the duet into portentous territory. At other times, the men seem more playful, testing each other in a cheeky rivalry. Some of the maneuvering had an effortful look, and a careful deliberateness sometimes crept in, impeding the work's flow.

In these two works, Rubsam seemed to treat the music more as accompaniment rather than getting deep inside it, but in the shortened version of last year's charming "Django Suite," the music was a vibrant springboard and equal partner, and the choreography breathed more spontaneously. The selections (all composed between 1939 and 1942) he chose made clear the range of the great jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt's music. The opening "Echoes of Spain" showcased Thielen's proud bearing and neat, fleet footwork as he and Morissey occupied the same space without ever connecting. Long brought her bold attack and dynamic presence her fleet "Rhytme Futur" solo, set to clarinet-driven music that evoked the propulsive drive of a train engine. Rubsam, Reed and Thielen bounded through a lighthearted trio, at one point climbing atop each other to form a pyramid, accompanied by vibrant, syncopated rhythms, and then Long and Morrissey, in short fringed dresses, strutted and swayed to "Belleville" in what resembled a Charleston on pointe. Thielen's winning, sly solo to "Dinette" ended the suite on a high note. Shirtless, wearing suspenders and dark pants, and manipulating a fedora with casual grace and deft timing, he conveyed a complete character through movement: an eager-to-please guy who occasionally bumps up against harsh realities but gets through them with a gleaming smile and smooth confidence.

The oldest work on the program was a duet to Laura Nyro's "Save the Country," excerpted from a 1997 work Rubsam made to her music. He and Ashley Sowell, dressed for a beach outing, gamboled as though in a low-rent version of the "Somewhere" ballet from "West Side Story." It was innocuous, but hardly matched up to the searing gospel fervor or Nyro's impassioned music.

Concluding the program were two premieres. Christine Reisner, a veteran dancer whose resume includes working with Massine and Alwin Nikolais, co-choreographed her solo "The Dance Bag," which began as though a dancer in a practice studio was recollecting her summing up her memories, then took a more offbeat, but unresolved turn as she spilled out the content of her bag, adding garments and accessories, ultimately wearing the ingeniously designed bag itself as a large jumper.

"Dinner is West," an amiable new quartet in seven brief sections, set to an atmospheric original chamber-music score by Beata Moon, opened with two ladies in wide, flowing skirts sitting decorously at tea and moved through swift scenarios of dreamy fantasy and gentle humor. It had an uncomplicated charm and flavor, and would have perhaps resonated more fully to a viewer familiar with the paintings of Robert Nakin, which were credited in the program as having inspired both the score and the choreography. Rubsam came up with more unexpected and offbeat imagery here, and kept mixing and matching the four dancers in varied combinations. This is his fifth collaboration with Moon, and they clearly bring out the best in each other.

Volume 3, No. 39
October 24, 2005

copyright ©2005 Susan Reiter



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last updated on October 24, 2005