Dance Alloy Theater's Exposed | Program Notes
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Monday, April 6, 2009

Dance Alloy Theater's Exposed

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 8:28 AM

The modern-dance company's new evening of three works by three choreographers is exceptional. (There's one performance remaining -- tonight, Mon., April 6, at the New Hazlett Theater.) I'd already seen versions of all three of the pieces -- two of them more than once -- in the course of writing last week's CP feature on the troupe. I was impressed how well they held up when I saw the finished show on Sun., April 5. One reason I even gained new appreciation for the works was something I'd not seen while sitting in on several rehearsals and preview performances: the costumes.

The lead piece, Alloy artistic director Beth Corning's "4-2 Men," was inspired largely by bunraku puppetry. I'd already seen dancers Stephanie Dumaine and Maribeth Maxa act as "puppeteers" for Christopher Bandy and Michael Walsh. But on Sunday, the women's all-black, pajama-like outfits, based on the ones worn by bunraku artists and complete with see-through hoods, added a dimension. The anonymity imposed (or perhaps granted?) by the hoods provided a mystique, but also amplified the work's evocation of gender politics, in which the women (literally and figuratively positioned behind their men) went unacknowledged. The effect was doubled by the men's cheeky costumes: proper gray suits with white shirts and bright red ties -- except that the trousers were shorts, which inevitably cast them as little-boy puppets rather than man-puppets. As is typical in Corning's work, the movement was psychologically rich and often dreamily slow. Solos by Walsh (fearlessly danced with an actual doll-sized puppet) and Dumaine were especially effective. The costumes are credited to Corning herself, with "construction" by Maxa. (The men also wore handled harnesses to facilitate manipulation.) An additional outfit, the lovely "big girl dress" worn by Adrienne Misko (while she was both on and off Dumaine's shoulders) was by frequent Alloy collaborator Marina Harris, herself a name choreographer.

The program's lone older piece was Victoria Marks' "Dancing to Music," a wonderful short work from 1988. Corning, Dumaine, Maxa and Misko play four women waiting for a train. Performed to haunting piano-and-vocals by Wim Mertens, it suggests the label "movement piece" more than traditional dance: For the first half of its 12 minutes, the dancers don't even shift their feet. Rather, it's built around precisely timed and subtly executed glances, gestures and other interactions between silent characters slowly shedding their closely guarded status as strangers. "Dancing to Music" had been great in a street-clothes preview in March, too. But the costumes -- particularly dark vintage cloth overcoats (by Eons boutique's Richard Parsakian) -- created elegant lines and helped construct the aura of buttoned-up commuter formality which Marks sought to break down.

Seemingly simplest of all were Marina Harris' beautiful costumes for Nora Chipaumire's "becoming angels." The Zimbabwe-born, internationally acclaimed Chipaumire had created this world-premiere work for the Alloy's five dancers. It's an intense study of humanity under duress and of the human struggle (as Chipaumire has said) to be "good." The dancers wore loose, shimmering two-piece outfits, some with long-sleeved tunics, some sleeveless. The slinky, supple material, unadorned but for a pleat here and a detail there, highlighted the dancers' bodies in this at-once earthy and soaring work. Ultimately, of course, angelicism is suggested, but it's the hard-earned sort, not the kind one is born into. Harris' costumes communicated this succinctly and, in a grace note, even managed to glow in the more darkly lit passages.

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