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Company E

'Next:Spain' - 'Inside It's Raining', 'Y', 'Instable', 'Ink Spills in Cursive', 'FEW'

by Carmel Morgan

November 17, 2012 -- Lansburgh Theater, Washington DC

The answer to the question, “What’s next?” for DC’s Company E always involves another country. And that’s purposeful. Company E’s focus is “international collaboration,” and the company achieves this by working closely with the diplomatic community in the nation’s capital to gain access to the rest of the world. “Next: Spain” was the second of a series of performances planned to spotlight the art and artists of other nations, following February 2012’s “Next Israel.”

While “Next: Israel” fittingly featured the choreography of several Israelis, “Next: Spain” featured the choreography of not a single Spaniard (that I could tell). The apparently British-born Thomas Noone now runs a contemporary dance company, Thomas Noone Dance, in Barcelona. Nuria Martinez was given credit in the printed program as a co-choreographer of “FEW,” along with Noone, but the program contained only a biography of Noone, so I’m not certain whether she’s a native of Spain. To pad the performance, some interludes of Spanish music were added. Brendan Shultz, originally from New Hampshire, played classical Spanish music compositions on acoustic guitar. According to his biography, he studied in Barcelona.

“Next Spain” felt as if it was thrown together in a very short period of time, and, unfortunately, the Spanish theme did not come through as well as it should have for a program that purports to honor that country. Very peculiarly, rather than exposing the audience to at least a small handful of Spanish choreographers, as I had expected them to do, the only artist actually from Spain appearing live on the program – Spanish electronic musician Miguel Lopez Mora/Digital 21 – was a last-minute find courtesy of the Embassy of Spain. Mora lent authenticity to the evening, but barely. His music is a global sort of phenomenon, and maybe that was the point? No need to concentrate on artists who actually hail from Spain because artists from all over the world, or Europe, at least, are doing a lot of the same things?

The four pieces danced – “Inside It’s Raining” by British-born and Israeli-based choreographer Rachel Erdos; “Y” a choreographic collaboration by members of Company E; “Instable” by Marco Cantalupo of Italy and Katarzyna Gdaniec of Poland (who are members of a dance company based, I believe, in Switzerland); and “FEW” by Thomas Noone and Nuria Martinez – and came across as alternate versions of largely the same thing. I have never attended a performance in which the works were so similar to each other – from costumes (simple, pedestrian outfits that looked like everyday attire in a dance studio), to lighting, to music, to the movement itself. Weirdly, if you had fallen asleep at some point, and dozed through the end of one piece and into the beginning of another, I’m not sure you’d have noticed you’d missed anything when you awoke. I suspect that “FEW” was the best realized work of the bunch, but after three consecutive courses of the same stuff, I was very hungry for something different. How disappointing that I did not walk away having learned much about Spain or the flavor of contemporary dance there.

Disappointment resulted not only from the lack of a balanced program and the lack of connection to Spain, but from the dancers, who I know are capable of more interesting, more vibrant performances than the single note that echoed over and over again. They are a talented group, and yet they did not appear to have been really challenged. Instead, it looked to me like they resorted to what they do reasonably well and are likely comfortable with – dancing like mentally ill patients who’ve been overmedicated, with blank stares, then shaking their bodies madly like they’ve experienced an electric shock. If anyone was seeking an abundance of staring and shaking, then they left the theatre happy. As for me, I was longing for the dancers to break out of their routine. I was longing to see something genuinely new. What little Spanish influence there was to the evening did not bring any surprises.

To the contrary, I saw a lot repeated and un-original elements. Remember dancers smearing themselves with muck from a bucket in Naharin’s powerful “Black Milk” during “Next: Israel”? See a man with a bare chest smear his face and chest again in “Ink Spills in Cursive,” by Company E’s Jason Garcia Ignacio. A reading from Lorca’s “The Little Mute Boy” did not transform Ignacio’s solo work into something Spanish simply by the addition of words from a Spanish poet. Throughout the evening, in nearly each piece, dancers leaned into one another, they pulled each other’s limbs, they covered their mouths, they ran chins down the length of an arm, and they stared and shook. Much of the movement was ugly, angular, asexual, annoying, and absurd. I regret to say that I was more moved by co-founder Paul Gordon Emerson’s pre-performance speech (he’s always an eloquent speaker) than I was by the dancing. The music, too, I felt, was more entertaining.

Company E’s dancers, at the moment a lonely quintet – Kathryn Sydell Pilkington, Alicia Canterna, Amanda Engelhardt, Jason Garcia Ignacio, and Robert Priore – are strong and agile. All have an alluring stage presence. However, with such a small number, it’s no wonder that many of the works the company has performed begin to blend into each other. Company E could use a few more bodies (I suppose it may be a budget issue, though!). They could also benefit from dancing in ways that are completely out of their comfort zone, which might be accomplished if they continue to travel and to seek out choreographers from around the world. I personally hope to see them pick up a country next time that’s much further afield, so the dancers cannot rest on what already is familiar to them. Part of the fun in watching some of the popular dancing shows on TV is seeing contestants try steps and styles that are totally foreign to them. I want to see Company E’s dancers stretch and struggle a bit. I have every confidence they can succeed if they do so.

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