EVENING OF DUETS: Eleven couples dance

Chris Babingui and Nano Lenaud Loubayi in EVENING OF DUETS.
Chris Babingui and Nano Lenaud Loubayi in EVENING OF DUETS.

The fifth annual EVENING OF DUETS featured eleven duets from artists based in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and Congo. Though wrought with diversity of artistic choice, each distinctive piece dealt with what it means for two people to dance together.

The evening began with Julia Mayo’s Fissure, which maintains relaxed tranquility with spurts of sharpness, as the two dancers ease into structures of mutual support. These specific structures repeat at the end but with a shattered quality that disrupts the position’s former ease. It portrays a decaying relationship without heighten drama. Instead, this piece nods to the soft, methodical manner in which connection can fall away.

JDY Dance presented a work entitled Nothin’s Gonna Bring Me Down, which broke up the air of contemporary sincerity with upbeat, theatrical movement and exaggerated use of facial expressions.

Lora Allen, artistic director of allendance, premiered an excerpt from bloom, inspired by author David Ohle’s “movement as plot” novel Motorman. The work begins with one dancer holding the stomach of another who maintains a tucked position, fully supported by the first dancer. This is held for a considerable amount of time and then changes to a position in which the supported dancer holds herself straight and horizontal in front of the supporting dancer’s body. The length of these choices allows the audience enough time to truly absorb the strength of each position and begin to forget which limb belongs to which body. The piece contains a great deal of floor work with phrases that travel along the diagonal of the stage. Though saturated in repetition, the choreography builds in dynamic, and each movement becomes more interesting each time.

Evalina “Wally” Carbonell’s I’m Your Man features music from Leonard Cohen and displays theatrical expression but with an almost sinister tone. It feels as though there is some underlying secret as to why this eerie song with the repetition of the lyric “I’m Your Man” is paired with two women in pants, collared shirts and either suspenders or a vest, dancing in playful but precise formations with expressive faces.

Equanimity, from OcampoWang Dance, features a male and female dancer in a seemingly romantic, contemporary duet interspersed with sharp, almost harsh movement. These unexpected choices provide solid juxtaposition to the soft quality of the piece.

Melissa Chisena, curator of EVENING OF DUETS, premiered an excerpt from Axis, a work created with Marie Brown and danced by both choreographers. The soundtrack, developed in collaboration with Jonathan Cannon, creates a strong electronic feel that complements the staccato movement of the dancers without overbearing it. Though laced with precise, dynamic movement, the piece also makes use of stillness, allowing important images to sink in. It feels exciting, but not overwhelmingly so.

Julia Mayo’s Fissure in EVENING OF DUETS.

Head, Shoulders, Knees, choreographed by Meredith Stapleton was set to NPR Hourly Newscasts. The movement of the two dancers complements the information but is not literal. The dancers serve as a kind of reaction to the words of the reporter, highlighting how to deal with the bombardment of constant news.

Blythe E. Smith’s Pales in Comparison, a contemporary ballet duet with one male and one female dancer, portrays a relationship that establishes a flow of coming together and apart. Through use of partnering, individual movement, and unison, it becomes clear that in this relationship each dancer is incredibly important to the other.

ColemanCollective presented Bodies in a Glass Jar, which remarkably captures the phenomenon of solitude following a relationship, whatever that relationship may be. The idea that this person with whom you’ve lost closeness still exists while you are alone is made evident by one dancer leaving the stage to the corner and then returning to roam in the background, visible but disconnected.

A welcome change in movement quality followed in Annielille Gavino and William Burden’s 8am Text. At the start of the piece, each dancer takes turns in a spotlight, performing with calculated manipulation over singular body parts. Their piece contains a striking balance of swift, contemporary partnering and precise isolation.

Atelier Babingui Dance, a company from Congo, presented Iboga-Odzanga, dealing with themes of bravery, sacrifice, and honor. Though intent on the outward expression of these themes, and highly contingent on the narrative between the two dancers, this piece also contains bouts of internalized movement qualities. It seemed fitting to end the night, noting that in dancing with each other we are also always dancing with ourselves.

[Community Education Center, 3500 Lancaster Avenue] February 11, 2017; eveningofduets.com


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