The last dance concert I attended was at the Joyce Center on 8th Avenue in New York City. Last night's performance of On Stage–A Winter Concert" by ADDANCE was better. I don't mean just that I liked it better, though I did; I mean that by every possible objective standard– vision, execution, preparation, eloquence–Ann Dunn and her dancers stand toe to toe with their competition in the dance capital of the world. And– here's the infuriating part–ADDANCE hurled these flawless jewels into an almost empty theater.
Last week I'd gone to the opera – the most famous opera in the world, done by a company that had the public relations acumen to paste the word "European" over everything. The performance was gawdawful. The singing was uneven; the staging was non-existent; the acting was egregious, the orchestra played badly, and yet the echoing cavern of the Thomas Wolfe was packed to the rafters. I don't know why. Because it was the Opera Europa and carried with it the whiff of anywhere-but-here? I confess myself stymied as an art patron and commentator. I don't know what to say. We have the best in the world here–in some cases, in the case of dance, anyway – and we let them spin their hearts out in an empty room. I can't fathom it.
Amy Kohler has become a dancer of exceptional poise and skill. Her "Waltz" in "Western Suite," to the music of Copland, was tender, simple, heartbreaking. Her long, angular body broadcasts a sense of longing that is perfect for a girl dancing in a dusty wilderness. Kohler was still breathing hard from her turn in the Black Swan Pas de Deux, a big fat chestnut of the Russian repertoire. The Black Swan, where Kohler was partnered by powerhouse Lyle Laney, was entirely convincing. I think they might have been having a little more fun than the classical companies allow themselves. This is a good thing. It meant we were having more fun, too. The company, Kohler and Laney in particular, can do anything, switch costumes and do anything else.
Dunn insists that her dancers be actors as well, and it's their quality of emotional conviction which reaches the audience across the dark of the theater. Lyle Laney is a notable film maker, and something of the sense of the cinematic emerges in his dancing. The clearness of his movement insures that not one
nuance is missed. Laney is relatively new at dance, but his newness is not so much roughness as an imperishable exuberance. You can see his body rejoice each time it hits a new posture, lands square, perfects a new trick. It's like watching a colt bound over a field.
The surprise of the evening was Element, a six part suite with poetry written and performed by Dunn herself. Though a poet myself, I cringe a little when I see poetry on a dance program. But last night my expectations were dead wrong. Dunn's poetry is lively, concrete, surprising, touching, and as good an accompaniment to the beautiful dances as Chuck Lichtenberger's individual, memorable music. It's difficult to describe the emotion of Element without recourse to too-easy paradoxes– that it was joyful and heartbreaking, light and dark, merry and tragic all at once. Allison Hertzberg danced like an angel fallen from heaven and bewildered on earth in the fist section, "Birth Mark." I thought things would have to level out after that, but they don't. The dance hits peak after peak, words and music and motion blending, lifting, until at the end one knows one has seen a masterpiece, masterfully performed.
And that one has seen it practically alone.