What's the Score?
“Bounce” is the latest dance work to spring out of CityDance Ensemble, and the title says it all. It opened the mixed rep performance (seen May sixth at the Kennedy Center) that played out like a series of dribbles, with a few ups and plenty of downs.
The signature piece was a, well, bouncy little number that—despite the fact that it was about life’s many lifts, drops, rebounds, last-minute saves and beans to the head—never seemed to get off the ground. Devised by artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson for a crowded ensemble of women dressed in purples, greens and blues, the dancing was concerned mainly with the management of the undependable (and thus, distracting) props: rubber balls arrayed with a candy store counter’s variety. Big balls, little balls, roly balls, heavy balls, all of them a different color, and all of them taking the audience’s attention away from the movements made by the hard-working sports onstage. Which is a shame, because some interesting choreographic geometry was taking place amid all the volleying. And just when it appeared that a clear, calculated string of ideas and technique might be unraveling about two-thirds into “Bounce,” things got gummy once again. A gentleman was on hand to catch and remove any strays; he was the runner, the ball boy, and he was decked out in a referee’s jersey. Adding to the miasma was a jazz trumpeter (Matt Jones) who improvised his way around the movements to try and provide some semblance of teamwork between them. He was dressed like a referee, as well, and suggested what a particularly gifted young employee of the athletic store, Foot Locker, might do outside during his lunch break to earn a few extra greenbacks.
The minor disappointment that “Bounce” was—and it was only minor, because despite the piece being the headliner, it carried neither the substance, the emotional responsibility, nor the physical scope to qualify as the evening’s foundation—another CityDance premiere assumed the burden of being most problematic of the lot.
The usually clever choreographer Ludovic Jolivet presented “Within,” a solo effort that pitched itself as a silent movie version of “Death of a Salesman.” The piece was a mixed-media performance featuring (first on film) a befuddled-looking businessman (played by Florian Rouiller) in a crisp suit, walking down a busy street. But what’s that? He’s moving jerkily toward us, while the teems of other workaholics who surround him are walking backwards and away from us? It’s a trick, but at this point in cinema, hardly a trompe l’oeil. And just what it’s supposed to mean is anybody’s guess. He may be the lone face in a sea of emotionless, systematically programmed workaday automatons. But then our businessman emerges out of the shadows of stage right, and opens his suitcase. He removes the contents and slips one leg, then the other, into them. And there stands our hero, bruised but sturdy, inglorious but resolute. In a bright. Pink. Tutu.
I’ll just let that image marinate for just a moment.
Yes, clad in this fluffy, flouncey little number, Rouiller was put through a merciless routine of shuffles, mock-ballet steps and pantomiming that felt like Cliffs Notes editions of Marcel Marceau’s playbook. But wearing that infernal tutu, he was silly and yet humorless. He pranced around with a goofy expression on his face that failed to evoke the depression of a broken down man. He should have been world-weary, steely, hardened. But on screen he was depicted standing on a street corner, flipping his collar, ducking and tucking, shifting his head left and right, bending back and forth—all in slow-mo—like he was dodging a fleet of invisible bees.
A giant credit card was brought into the mix, and our hero placed it
between his chest and knees, leaning on it, his arms and neck hung over
the top. The message was that being a slave to the world of money changing
is equivalent to a trip to the gallows. But Willy Loman this was not.
This character seemed to die over and over and over again. And then he’d
start wallowing some more. The tutu was never explained, which left our
guesswork to range the gamut from a softer side of the cold corporate
clime to this particular man’s possibly gay self stifled by and
disguised from his business. Hazy, decelerated film clips showed him—I
swear—leaping up off a park bench, with briefcase in hand and legs
kicking: it looked like a Viagra commercial. He became trapped in a sea
of papers that, thanks to the aid of a large fan in the wings, blasted
everything around in a cyclone of stationary. And like that scenic effect,
the whole of “Within” seemed to be made of wind.
The character may have been a cancer patient. She may have been grieving the loss of someone or something special. And Hansen was more than willing to invest her own emotive spirits into the part. But garbed in what looked like a velvet tracksuit, and forced to succumb to Jeffrey’s halting choreography, what got mistaken for drama turned out to be little more than portentous calisthenics. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s on again, off again, music didn’t help. And the whole time, that jazz trumpeter from a few dances earlier was sitting in the dark, stage right, observing the goings on like Hansen’s own personal trainer or spotter, only to—and this was most confounding—exit after she finished. His presence was baffling and without logic. Was he really there for her support? Was he observing to ensure she wouldn’t commit a foul of some sort?
Rounding out the mixed rep was a repeat performance of “How Do I Love Thee?” featuring a strangely jagged Eileen Beth Mitchell in the part of a truly desperate housewife, and a lithe, commanding Alice Wylie demonstrating a jaw-droppingly long leg span and shoulder blades that churned like pistons.
“Eclipse” presented a pas de trios that looked more intricate than it sounded. The choreographer Doug Varone’s 1996 work gave Bruno Augusto, Melissa Greco and Ellen Rippon some web-like formations to get caught up in. They danced it splendidly. Michael Gordon’s music (such that it is) consisted of increasingly sonorous, wood-warping siren sounds.
By the end of the performance, the ups and downs having come and passed, the final score didn’t need an instant replay. What’s the call, ref? Fumble.