Beginnings are a tenuous time. Think of a child’s first steps. The kiss on the cheek from a new lover. A hand on the shoulder from a stranger, now a new friend. These moments mark the point between the known and the unknown, fraught with the tension of the possible. One’s imagination expands from there to all the believable directions the next action could take. The heart quickens, the innate response of the body to possibility. Nothing is more exciting than the new, the unknown.
Held at the Frank Lloyd Wright-esque home of arts patrons Colleen Casey and Tim Maloney, Saturday night’s performance by the fledgling Saint Lorraine Dance Company contained all these sensations and more. As the performance was about to begin, a young woman stepped onto the Saltillo tile, cleared her throat, and encouraged everyone to sit in the rows of chairs designed to allow the best view. I leaned forward from my spot in the second row as choreographer/artistic director Britt Keel and founding member Deborah Anderson took their places.
As you know, contemporary dance evolved naturally out of the modern-dance movement, which was both a reaction, and a response, to the ideology of ballet, which, by the late 19th century had expanded from the rounded feminine bodies and court dances to the arched arm, slim line, and en pointe action we see today. Modern dance initially cribbed from perceived exotica, especially of the Far and Near East, before settling into the realm of pedestrian gestures — literally, steps created out of the natural range of the human body.
What contemporary choreographers gleaned from modern dance is the use of repetitive motion, the contracting and releasing of the abdomen and the arms, movements in which the foot is turned upward (think t’ai chi), and bodies that roll on the floor, in space, wherever gravity will allow.
St. Lorraine leaps further in their pursuit of dance.
As the music started, the two dancers, who looked nervous as hell, initiated a series of kinetic steps timed to the cacophony of Thai (?) post-techno music spewing from the sound system. Gentle, resistant touch bloomed into hip gyrations flavored with Caribbean downbeats, notable for their visually arresting clinical, desexualized style. Entitled “Sugar Bumps,” the first choreography crackled as the dancers began touching each other and then moving away, stopping to brush their feet like bulls, wiping their fingers across their noses, an obscure reference to … what exactly? Inhaled drugs? Obsessive-compulsive disorder?
“Sugar Bumps” felt, and looked, like a choreographer trying to stretch her cerebral muscles around forms new to her. The resulting dimensions of the performance left me confused enough to spend the next two days trying to figure out why I was so perplexed. What I think happened with “Sugar Bumps” is that the piece is still too much in the choreographer’s head and has yet to settle in the limbs of both dancers. It will come.
Next on the program was the formidable “Dismissal of Difference,” the newest choreography of the three. It is a broken narrative of marriage, interspersed with wide swaths of repetition, as depicted by Keel and Anderson in masculine garb. Set to baroque music, the two dancers invoked reverent silence in the audience by depicting the erotic, violent, and passionate nature of a typical marriage. They dance ended with a stylized pantomime of the wedding march. The dancers knelt before the “altar” of the audience, while Anderson, in painful, painful slow motion gave Keel several open-handed slaps (no contact), to which Anderson “responded” by reeling backwards slow and sure, like a shot man in a Sam Peckinpah film.
In the short intermission between “Dismissal” and the final piece, my companion and I discussed the lack of gender-specific movements depicted here. Were Keel to present “Dismissal” with different bodies, say two men, or a man and a woman, the piece would remain the same — such is its power.
“Burial,” the final piece in the program, was a fitting conclusion to the evening. Only parts one and two of this choreography were showcased, but there was no sense of absence. It showed the physical range of the dancers, who fell into sinewy backbends, landing on their shoulders (no hands!) as they found the ground.
Much of the movement of this piece took place on the actual floor, body falling over body. Each performer fell away from one another, then emerged only to touch, in the shorthand glyphs typical to contemporary dance. Familiar archetypes emerged through their rococo shaping: mother cradling child, lover holding lover, child bereaving parent. Of the three choreographies, the music here provided the perfect counterpoint to the gesture without adding another layer to be dissected.
At the performance’s end, each dancer took their bows, and the choreographer returned to the stage to kiss the foot of her single dance-company member, while the audience of approximately 50 people stood to give Keel a much-deserved standing ovation.
Saint Lorraine is currently looking for a public performance space in which to choreograph and stage a full-length work. Meanwhile, both choreographer and dancer are teaching Ron Fletcher Pilates at Studio A. To make a donation or request, go to saintlorraine.com