Dance Alloy Theater Review

Dance Alloy Theater
A Limited Lifetime Guarantee
April 17, 2005 – Kelly-Strayhorn Theater; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The smell of earth and a haze of dust hung in the air following Dance Alloy.Theater’s gripping U.S. premiere of Per Jonsson’s masterwork “Schakt”(shaft). The last of three works featured in Alloy.Theater’s A Limited Lifetime Guarantee, “Schakt” marked a substantive step forward in the re-emergence of Pittsburgh’s oldest modern dance company along a new path toward reclaiming former national prominence.

A Limited Lifetime Guarantee began on a playful note as three dancers (two female, one male) in dress-like costumes coyly draped themselves over each other, arms enveloping curious bodies in choreographer Marina Harris’s “Blue Quartet” (2000). One of several vignettes contained within the work, the opening vignette’s storyline teetered between youthful emotional exploration and a coming of age. Harris’s modern choreography had the trio moving in concert with the work’s eclectic soundtrack. An initial languid atmosphere was halted when a member of the trio became overcome with feelings of neglect and jealousy at which time the music began to echo the dancer’s emotional discourse. Like mischievous children, moods in the characters quickly changed with the dancers playfully lifting each other’s dresses and flashing one another with glimpses of their underpants.

Tinged with yearning and melancholy, Harris’s work found emotional depth amidst frivolity as well as displaying it in a more obvious ways as in a poignant vignette performed by Alloy.Theater’s artistic director Beth Corning and dancer Jacob Rice in which the pair represented a mature emotional relationship with Corning being slid along a tabletop while Rice tenderly caressed her.

Highlighting the work’s overall sense of whimsy was a vignette in which the opening trio of dancers (Maibeth Maxa, Michael Walsh, and Cass Ghiorse) engaged in a makeshift competition using wads of bubble gum. The dancers stretched the gum into various forms such as a jump rope, a barrier, and a facemask in an effort to one-up each other.

The world premiere of Corning’s “Lost” followed “Blue Quartet”, striking a more reverent chord as members of Pittsburgh’s Renaissance City Women’s Choir emerged from within the audience singing Ross Whitney’s “A Pentatonic Alleluia”. Rising from their seats they walked out of the audience and onto the stage joining a group of Alloy.Theater’s dancers and other choir members portraying mourners at a wake. While Marina Harris’s costuming of characters in the work suggested the old west, other elements in the work suggested otherwise, such as a section with Rice seated atop a coffin pretending to drive it like a racecar. Whatever the period, the scene onstage was populated with a number quirky characters from Corning as cantankerous widow, to several of the dancers portraying what seemed to be oversized and overprotective children who often prevented mourners from approaching the deceased’s coffin.

For much of the “Lost”, the dancers danced and the singers squirmed in their seats as the choreography — a kind of keystone cops meets Martha Graham —blended pathos with a bevy of frantic movement. The work climaxed in a well-crafted dance sequence that included a powerful duet performed by Maxa and Ghiorse that saw the pair overcome with religious fervor that burst forth in choreography dense with physical and emotional intensity. Arguably some of Corning’s best choreography to date, “Lost” should have concluded there but the work continued on with several more dance sequences that did little more than muddle the work’s meaning.

As good as the program’s first two works were, Jonsson’s “Schakt” (1983) proved in a league of its own. A forbearer of contemporary works currently in vogue in Europe and Scandinavia, the work was a masterpiece that touched nearly all the senses and was as ominous as it was profound.

Three dancers, three sheets of rusted metal hung from the rafters, and three vertical rows of loose dirt along with a recreation of Yvonne Brosset’s original lighting design created an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of a science fiction movie. Set to a foreboding soundtrack by Peter Bengtsson, the dancers moved within angular and gestural choreography that at times resembled a martial arts kada. Primarily independent of each other’s movements, the dancers traveled up an down individual vertical paths of dirt, kicking it into clouds, tossing handfuls of it into the air and covering themselves in it. Spells of violent, sharp, and angry movement along the paths were broken up by the dancers standing at the rear of the stage banging on the metal sheets like gongs; adding a maniacal edginess to the work. Performed magnificently by Rice, Walsh, and Maxa, “Schakt” is the stuff of nightmares and one remarkable dance work.

With A Limited Lifetime Guarantee, Dance Alloy.Theater showed they are a dance troupe capable of great things and that they are once again worthy of serious notice.

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