The new crop of co•da dancers this season at Sugar Space are the tightest batch yet. In “Cause a Decision” they seemed determined to show off technical prowess and cohesiveness as a company. They succeed at that and took some notable risks along the way. In particular, they merit applause for making use of that tiny studio in some new ways. (The experience was only slightly marred by allowing a photographer on the frontmost of only four rows to clack away his shutter for the entirety of the show. Sure, Sugar Space needs press photos, but isn’t that what dress rehearsals are for?)
“Hips, Quakes & Stones” was the true company number. It arrives in the program notes with a quote from Courtney Love. “I’m not a woman. I’m a force of nature.” Choreographer Monica Remes should consider conducting workshops for people interested in excavating their psychologic relationship to Joan Jett, Love and Pat Benatar through strutting, air guitar, rocking out and vocalization. The action–– from a series of madcap dashes across the space to the ultimate image of the cast climbing the ballet barre stage right–– leaves the audience unsure if the dancers are crazed fans, fantasies of specific rock personae or eight bodies enthusiastically trading identities in competition for the highest quotient of glam. Remes’ was the best and most courageous use of the space. “Hips” confronted all of Sugar Space’s physical limitations while avoiding the traffic jams that plagued other works.
Fiona Nelson’s “Sum Continuum”, was set to excerpts from David Eagleman’s text “Sum”, which offers a depiction of afterlife with obvious choreographic opportunities. (The dead linger in a great waiting room till the last time they are remembered by the living, at which time they’re “called” to a more final threshold. In the meantime, they also relive their mortal experiences, but reordered so as to stack up mundane tasks into continuous years of sleeping, months of showering etc.) The problem is that the dance too tightly illustrates the text, leaving the audience with little tension, wondering why all these dead people are so young, perky and enthused about their ambiguous new existence. Still, the opening is truly striking. The choreographer sits in the dark, lit by her laptop, informing us of the three ways each of us is consigned to die. She types the list, hesitates, makes a change, and like the one of the Fates, continues.
Joshua Mora’s “Second Rate?” could easily have been the fiercest work in the show had it not been compromised by the weight of it’s score. Particularly in the context of the text heavy work that had preceded it, it suffered from the series of TED talk clichés about a living well that comprised Shane Koyczan’s lyrics. The heart of this work wasn’t to be found in these tired platitudes, but in the very particular camaraderie of Brooklyn Draper and Monica Remes. The pair draw out of each other a sense of ecstatic play that is absent in the rest of the show (and in much of the dance field in general).
Guest choreographer Eric Handman offered the most surprises, perhaps because his work was framed with the most expectation. “Phantom Limb” bore the marks of so many of his dances. His fascination with the self-estranged human hand has calcified into a morse code of distorted wrists. Periodically, flat, pale paws cut in front of the face and eyes of another dancer, seeming to want nothing, save the clean execution of the gesture itself. Another perennial obsession is partnering. The entanglement of bodies in “Phantom Limb” is lovely, quiet and deft. They might be seven characters from a Harold Pinter play that can’t help but interrupt and offend each other, eventually destroying the coherence of the conversation, but accelerating its crooked centrifuge. Everyone ends up on the floor in an unimaginable pile. Then they get back up, dust themselves off and look around. Jane Jackson is stoic, Brooklyn Draper is almost curious. Soon its back into the fray, there’s nothing else for it. As usual, the void of the stage is metaphor for larger, darker emptinesses.
There’s nothing in terms of steps that hasn’t been glimpsed in Handman’s earlier work. What sets “Phantom Limb” apart, is restraint, in the departments of music, performance and casting. Michael Wall’s score places itself expertly in the background–– unlike many of the film scores Handman has used before–– it doesn’t tell us how to feel about the dancers-as-characters. Instead it folds and directs the experience of time. “Phantom Limb” is a lucid dream, but one spare in signs and symbols. Finally, Handman is working without any men, without any discernable bravado, machismo, balletic maleness or plausible avatar for himself. These tools have their place, but their absence here makes Handman’s detail-obsessed pure-dance voice more legible, though still mysterious, like neon in the dark.
This cold but luminous place is where Handman’s been headed for quite a while, since he started to shed his earlier voice like a snakeskin. Gone is the Eric Handman who made dances on playful, boastful improvisors akin to himself, men like Josh Anderson or women like Jess Humphrey. Five or ten years ago, he almost might have been caught in Mora’s dance, romping with Draper and Remes. One place isn’t better than the other, just different, and it’s nice to see them side by side.
Samuel Hanson contributes regularly to loveDANCEmore and SLUG magazine.