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Lydia Johnson Dance

by Elizabeth McPherson

April 4, 2008 -- The Ailey Citigroup Theatre, New York

Lydia Johnson Dance presented four dances in their annual New York season, each work choreographed by Johnson, who blends ballet technique with a contemporary sensibility. 

The first dance “Falling Out,” with music by Philip Glass, featured three dancers (Jessica Sand, Kerry Shea, and Tucker Ty Davis), with a supporting cast of four women. There is much use of chairs, with the supporting dancers spending almost the entire dance on the floor using the chairs to support their legs in various manipulations. The three featured dancers are involved in a love triangle of sorts with Davis clearly making his choice between the two women, and then the spurned dancer showing her emotional discomfort. Johnson follows the musical phrasing with great care and uses the floor extensively, incorporating low, middle and high levels—not so typical of traditional ballet. 

In “Collecting Rain,” composed to songs by Ray LaMontagne, Johnson makes expert use of the stage space, filling it with fluid choreography. In one striking moment, different groupings of dancers perform complementary but different choreographic sequences spread throughout the stage. In another, the three men perform a riveting sequence that again makes great use of moving up and down off the floor, an intense bit of choreography that could well have been extended. 

“Lament” a premiere to music by Henryk Gorecki has a meditative quality. Johnson uses a repeating motif of moving from pose to pose. She also has several movement sequences in which the dancers hold hands, creating a community feeling but with varying shapes between the dancers that express individuality. It has a look of a string of paper dolls, but through a post-modern lens so that the lines and angles are not even. 

The lightest dance of the evening was the last -- “Dream Sequence,” also a premiere, performed by the full company, and set to songs sung by Dean Martin. Johnson creates a scene of a party or nightclub set in the 1950s, in which the men often congregate upstage right on bar stools admiring the women as they dance. The women, costumed in evening gowns, move with “come hither” glances at the men and the audience. A signature pose for the women has one arm draped over the top of the head. R. Colby Damon stood out for his utter commitment to each step, inhabiting the dance phrases with a comedic flair. 

Johnson’s dancers work well together, a cohesive group fluidly joining and separating. They are expressive and versatile, and Johnson is shown to be the same in the fairly diverse dynamic level of her dances. She skillfully moves the dancers around the stage, coordinating groups of dancers. Johnson does, however, often repeat herself choreographically, sit-rolls being the primary example. Although the rolls are an effective transition, the repetition between dances makes each one less clearly distinguished from the others.

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