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LEVYdance and Sidra Bell Dance New York

'AMP, Coasts Collide'

by Carmel Morgan

February 2 , 2013 -- Dance Place, Washington, DC

Former Joe Goode Performance Group member Benjamin Levy’s LEVYdance, based in San Francisco, is celebrating its 10th anniversary season. LEVYdance has made multiple appearances at Dance Place in Washington, DC, and this year the Bay Area troupe was joined by another small contemporary dance company, one from the opposite coast – Sidra Bell Dance of New York City. This joining of forces was spurred in part, said Levy in the program notes, by his desire to have his company members benefit from working with another artist. He also wanted to have the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn about the creative process from other choreographers. Sidra Bell was chosen as a guest artist, and she spent a 6-week residency creating a new dance called “less” for Levy’s dancers.

The combined performance definitely brought forth differences between the two small companies and their choreographers, yet the collaboration highlighted some similarities, too. Both Levy and Bell, at least in the works in the AMP program, concentrated less on narrative structure and more on mood and atmosphere. While Levy’s two works beautifully conjured relationships and intimacy, Bell’s two works hit a plethora of quirky notes, displaying a certain distance as well as urgency. The dancers in both companies are on the young side overall, with Levy’s dancers being a bit more seasoned.

In “Falling After Too,” a 2003 piece choreographed by Levy and Darrin Michael Wright, Yu Kondo Reigen and Paul Vickers wound and unwound around each other like ice dancers. Their bodies, acting as a unit, engaged in joint pushes, swings, and deep leans. The pair manipulated each other with a succession of gentle but insistent little kicks and grabs. Their hips at times were magnets, keeping them close. At other times, the couple swiftly cut and carved the air, gaining momentum while sustaining balance. This duet struck me as quiet and contemplative and yet tremendously athletic, too. Like a well made dish, the ingredients combined the simple and complex, and the result was rewarding and delicious.

Bell’s piece for LEVYdance, “less,” almost literally blinded me. Lighting played a major role – bright, white, and purposefully painful light sometimes. The dancers wore white tank leotards and underwear, showing off bare arms, legs, and chests in the case of men (and one woman at the end). Their skin reflected a ghostly glow. The way the dancers moved and stared made one think of futuristic robots. They didn’t behave quite like humans. An icy coldness abounded. They bounced on their toes, made circles with their arms as if about to fall, batted their eyes, and called out “catch me.” Despite the “catch me” pleas, they fell and were not caught. Being off balance seemed to be a theme, as did the cult of beauty. One dancer refused to smile, although she was demanded to do so. I found “less” kind of alienating and confounding but nonetheless interesting to watch.

Bell’s piece for her own company, “.heterogamy,” not surprisingly, suited her dancers better than “less” suited Levy’s dancers. Her dancers, perhaps, better captured her intent. The dancers, in costumes of yellow/gold and black, captivated me with their incredibly intense focus. Walking toward the audience, the dancers coolly and unwaveringly locked eyes with us. This piece bewitched, and for me, it revealed more choreographic craft and also tighter ensemble work than “less.” For brief moments, I suspect the dancers may have been performing a kind of structured improvisation (flocking). A group moved in unison, but the slight turn of some heads made me think that there was a leader who was being followed. Although I often find talking in dances irksome, here Bell’s use of laughter and chatter (and also pedestrian movement like scratching) effectively jolted audience members between the lull of watching dance and sudden self-consciousness of doing the same. Ultimately, however, the work felt rather choppy.

Levy’s “Physics” proved to be the gem of the evening. Just as Bell’s dancers seemed very at home with her unique style, so Levy’s dancers shone best in his work. Similar to “Falling After Too,” dancers in pairs frequently faced each other with arms joined. “Physics” seemed a perfect title, as the dancers challenged and demonstrated physics throughout. The work generated a seductive wave of rhythms. Gripped by the back of her neck, a dancer was swung low. A dancer rolled over another’s back. All the while the dancers used their weight to turn, propel, spin, lift, or be carried. A duet between Scott Marlowe and Paul Vickers, in particular, radiated both physical and emotional strength.

Levy was named one of Dance Magazine’s “Top 25 Choreographers to Watch” in 2004, and I conclude that he’s still one to watch!

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