writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

A Very Personal Vision

Joyce Theater
New York, NY
January 27 & January 31

by Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter

One enters a very specific world when viewing the choreography of Jacqulyn Buglisi and Donlin Foreman, who as artistic directors contribute equally to the repertory of the ten-year-old Buglisi/Foreman Dance. It is a world that is passionately committed to the full-bodied, emotionally propelled technique and esthetic of Martha Graham, in whose company both were principal dancers for many years. It is marked by what could be considered "old-fashioned" values within today's dance scene—frequent use of nineteenth-century music (often performed live), dances inspired by literary sources and humanistic concerns. This kind of open-hearted, deeply expressive work is certainly not trendy, but the company happily and proudly inhabits its own realm, set apart from whatever constitutes the cutting-edge of the moment.

In their strongest efforts, both choreographers, creating from a deeply personal esthetic impulse, can produce work that makes questions of up-to-date or outdated irrelevant. Buglisi's 2002 Requiem achieves a kind of timelessness, as five women draped in heavily layered skirts creates a series of startling, mostly slow-motion images that are not overpowered by the heart-rending poignancy of Faure's stately Requiem. As the curtain rises, they are not even visible as human forms, since their carefully arranged amply skirts cover the pedestals on which they are seated, and their upper bodies are folded down away from our view. One by one they lift their torsos, establishing a tableau of weighted, serene sculptural forms bathed in Clifton Taylor's glowing warm light.

At first they only move within the confines of their seated positions, shifting the angles of their heads, torsos and arms. When they venture away from their pedestals, it is always with a stately, serene solemnity. Even a sequence when they crawl on hands and knees along a diagonal as if approaching a goal with trepidation, only to retreat back to the safety of their pedestals, is decorous and dignified. All the movement is weighted and deliberate, propelled by legs that we never see until near the end, when they raise the heavy top layer of their skirts so that they can step out more freely.

The glowing beige, gold and deep red colors, bathed in the glowing sheen of the lighting and the texture of Debora Mache's set design, create a striking stage picture. Buglisi's program notes indicate that the work was inspired by the loss of a friend in the September 11 tragedy and is dedicated to all of its victims. Her tribute is one that, in its evocative imagery and avoidance of specific references, reverberates hauntingly.

New works by both choreographers found them experimenting with the overall stage picture and the way the dancers are seen within it. Foreman's Song, his third collaboration with composer Lisa DeSpain, places 24 members of the New York Choral Society on stage with the six dancers. Most of the singers, wearing black, are in rows upstage, with a handful of them intermingled downstage with the six dancers in softly draped, clinging beige and cream costumes. De Spain stands downstage center conducting. There is a lot for the eye to take in as the dancers begin their understated dancing and a solo voice is then joined by the choral ensemble. The stage picture is quietly rearranged by the time the second section begins, with deSpain and the singers collecting at the rear and ceding the full downstage area to the dancers.

The a cappella, wordless score hints at gospel, Gregorian chant and spirituals, and creates its own rich rhythms, including one section where foot-stamping added a percussive effect. Foreman's choreography keeps the dancers paired off in couples for much of the piece, and shapes their bodies into intertwining curves and sculpted shapes, all sustained by a sighing flow. One sensed a kinship with Humphrey's fall and recovery rather than Graham's gut-centered forcefulness. When one coupled performed a duet full of images of succor and support, the other two remained frozen stylized embraces.

Partway through, the singers quietly and efficiently swung their lines around so that they were now positioned stage right, and by the end some of them had again intermingled with the dancers so that the concluding stage picture brought things full circle.

Drawing on her experiences of time spent within the wet, lush environment of the Venezuelan rainforest, Buglisi created Rain, in which the dancers dart and spring like mysterious creatures, bathed in misty lighting and behind a scrim on which a never-fully-distinct film of rainforest vegetation and moisture is projected. It's a bold and risky attempt to evoke the deeply sensual, exotic setting on a stage, and the overall visual and aural effect—thanks to Jacobo Borges' projections and set design and Glen Velez's terrific percussion, which (along with Lori Cotler's whispered vocals) ttruly places one in a world of unexpected, unidentifiable sounds of nature—is a rich, memorable one. On one viewing, though, with so much texture of which the dance is one layer, it was difficult to get a clear handle on the choreography as a whole, though isolated moments stood out. The four men and four women sprang and crouched with resilience, sometimes pairing up, often launching across the stage is dynamic bursts of solo movement. The unpredictability and hints of wildness of their movement added to the overall imagery of a mysterious, teeming, fascinating natural realm on which we were briefly granted a glimpse. The inclusion of Villa-Lobos and Mahler excerpts amid Velez's score was a bit jarring and made the layering of elements a bit overly rich.

Buglisi clearly was aiming to try something different in her whimsical new Pollen in the Air, in which two youthful couples romp in unexpected and often jarring ways. A greatest-hits kind of classical-music sampler (bits of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, plus Schumann and Sibelius) provide what was presumably intended as ironic accompaniment for what looks like a cross between circus tumblers and puppies playfully checking each other out ) at one point the men intently sniff all around the women). Red balloons hang in the air, and loose white ones are dropped to the floor as the work begins. Buglisi's program note cites the cult 1960s film King of Hearts as its inspiration, but she has misfired if she was trying to suggest that offbeat film's sweet tenderness, achieving rather an antic desperation in an attempt to amuse.

Foreman's other new work, Cascade, reunites him with the romantic classical music he often favored before embarking on what has proven a rewarding and varied series of collaborations with DeSpain. As pianist Steven Ryan gave an excellent performance of Chopin's Polonaise-Fantaisie, Foreman's three men and four women began by swaying in place before exploding into space with an openness and spontaneity, and rounded softness, that made one think of Isadora Duncan, as did the costumes, particularly the women's artfully draped varied tunics. It is an uncomplicated, celebratory, persuasive dance, deeply attuned to its music.

Buglisi and Foreman performed together on opening night in the only earlier work on the program, Sospiri, first seen in 1989 under the auspices of the Graham company. Their sensitivity to each other in this poignant duet of restrained passion was lovely to behold. Foreman had been dancing quite a bit on the company's programs in recent years, but seems to be pulling back, and Graham company artistic directors Christine Dakin and Terese Capucilli, who are Associate Founders and longtime mainstays of the Buglisi/Foreman troupe, each appeared in only one work. Presumably the increased activity of the Graham company now limits their participation. A new, younger generation of dancers is emerging in the company, among whom Helen Hansen was a vibrant presence in everything she danced. The smaller male contingent—Walter Cinquinella, Kevin Predmore, Stephen Pier and Yarden Ronen, were uniformly powerful and lyrical.

The company in Mean Ole World. Photo:  Kristin Lodoen.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 5
February 2, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter



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Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
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Gay Morris
Susan Reiter
Alexandra Tomalonis(Editor)
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Leigh Witchel
David Vaughan


The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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last updated on January 11, 2004