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Company E

'Next: Israel' (A mixed repertoire program)

'George & Zalman', 'Black Milk', 'Most of the Day I'm Out', 'Dust (for Jack)', 'Killer Pig'

by Carmel Morgan

February 25, 2012-- Sidney Harman Hall, Washington DC

On February 25, 2012, Paul Gordon Emerson, former artistic/executive director of DC’s CityDance Ensemble, debuted a contemporary dance company, called “Company E,” that he co-founded last year with former CityDance dancers Kathryn Sydell Pilkington and Jason Garcia Ignacio. The new company performed a single sold-out show at Sidney Harman Hall in downtown Washington. Company E’s focus is national and international dialogue through the medium of dance. Partnering with the diplomatic community, among others, Company E will present a series of performances that spotlight choreographers, dancers, designers, musicians, and visual artists from around the globe. The company will also travel internationally under the auspices of the United States State Department promoting cultural education.

The first performance by the fledging company, titled “Next: Israel,” featured a number of Israeli choreographers: Gai Behar, Sharon Eyal, Ohad Naharin, Yossi Berg, and Oded Graf. Choreographer Andrea Miller was included in the program, too. Although she is a United States citizen, she has a connection to Israel through her time with the Batsheva Dance Company.

Strong, original, and lively choreography was the star of the evening, and, for the most part, the Company E dancers did an admirable job. Many former CityDance dancers have joined Company E. I was especially happy to see Delphina Parenti back in town. Her duet with hunky Israeli-born Tom Weinberger, a new face, shone the brightest among the evening’s works because of the power of the two performers.

In “Most of the Day I’m Out,” Parenti and Weinberger added just the right portions of drama and technique to make the choreography of Yossi Berg and Oded Graf positively sizzle. The pair feuded through touch and glance, initially in silence, and then to the music of PJ Harvey. Parenti and Weinberger stood on opposite sides of the stage and simultaneously shed their jackets before coming together physically. It took them the rest of the piece, however, to peel off their remaining garments and let us see them stripped down to their underwear. In between, she grabbed his wrist, he put his hand on her forehead, and they battled through intimate slow dances and more upbeat disco moves.

The program started off with two commanding works by Ohad Naharin that were restaged for Company E by Danielle Agami, former Batsheva member. In “George & Zalman,” five women wearing skimpy black dresses danced to a poem by Charles Bukowski, read by Batsheva dancer Bobbi Smith. The ladies alternately posed, froze, and took solo turns, then repeated, while the soundtrack repeated lines from the poem, adding words and phrases bit by bit (“Ignore,” plus “Ignore all,” becomes “Ignore all possible concepts and possibilities”). The dancers, with their starts and stops and Barbie-like postures, seemed to be stuck in a world where the American dream and the poem’s exhortation to “Just make it babe, make it,” rendered them both anxious and emotionally barren. Some crawled on their hands and knees desperate to “make it” but wondering at what price.

Following the all-female piece, five men performed in Naharin’s “Black Milk.” They were bare-chested and wore wide-legged pale linen-colored pant/skirts, designed by Rakefet Levy and constructed by the Batsheva Workshop. The music, Paul Smadbeck’s “Etude No. 3 for Marimbas,” provided a quiet undertone. Early in the work, the men sat in a row at the front of the stage and passed a silver bucket. Participating in a shared ritual, each dancer dipped his hands into the bucket and smeared himself with grayish muck. A pair of streaks ran from their foreheads down toward their waists. Once adorned with these markings, the men engaged in a series of thrillingly athletic barrel turns and vertical jumps. One dancer was frequently the odd man out. We did not know why the others glared at him, or violently held his head and whacked him up and down against the floor. But such is life.

After intermission came “Dust (for Jack)” a duet choreographed by Andrea Miller to the music of Arvo Part. Small statured dancers Jason Garcia Ignacio and Robert Priore, in black shorts and powdered skin, strode around and around, sometimes with arms draped around each other, and sometimes in pursuit. The lighting design, originally by Vincent Vigilante and re-designed for Company E by Julie Ana Dobo, consisted of smoky shafts of light from the ceiling that ended in multiple bright circular pools on the stage. Like in “Black Milk,” violent episodes played out between the men. Like worn-out wrestlers, the dancers clung and struggled. There were plenty of embraces, and also exhausted collapses, as the pair fought through their relationship.

A befuddling work called ‘Killer Pig,” choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar, closed the program. The choreographers gave the dancers a challenge that they didn’t quite grasp, it seemed to me. Maybe with another few weeks of rehearsal they would have nailed it? The choreography was unforgiving, and the costumes – skintight white unitards – were as well. Eight dancers stood in a flock. Through the thin costumes, you could see every bulge in their bodies. The work demanded that they move quickly, in unison, but they needed to show more sharpness. The lights went up and down, varying in brightness, and the music, an original score by Ori Licktik, offered repetitive sounds not unlike a jazzy ticking clock. If “Killer Pig” had been executed with more crispness, the head snaps and off-center leans would have been more affecting. As it was, the dancers looked more like robots executing exaggerated poses. When they attempted a jiggly strut, many missed the swing in the steps. I appreciated the choreographers’ vision, however, and I look forward to seeing Company E perform more international works soon.

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