Brittany Brown Ceres’s dances are voluptuous and lucid. They are also finely crafted, though in her first full-evening concert, "Limits of the Marvelous" at Dance Mission Theater on Nov. 30 they were not always quite as finely performed. The larger ensemble numbers’ speed suggested technical challenges not always met. But for those of us who value imagination and brains, Ceres is a choreographer to watch.
Announcing the evening as a world premiere was probably technically correct though a little misleading, since "Limits" consisted of works created independently. Ceres pulled them together by choreographing bridges and employed sections of red carpet as roads traveled or avoided. This unifying prop also allowed her to delineate performance space in a variety of manners, though after a while the constant rolling and unrolling of rugs began to look like ceremonial housekeeping.
Ceres choreographed in layers and sections that split and coalesced, sometimes so fast that the eye had difficulty catching them but was always aware of the underlying common trajectory. Often one had a sense of a single image bursting into multiple versions, not unlike a time-lapse photograph. The work was also fresh in its uncommonly imaginative use of arms, precisely placed but hugely extending into space.
Jenny Ward opened the evening with the crystalline Face, Façade, a solo performed on and around a stool encased in a square of red light. No matter where her body pulled her, her gaze kept focusing on the beyond. All of a sudden, it became apparent what she was looking for: a swiftly moving Gianna Shepard, who appeared behind Ward’s back. The lyrical Embrace, Detain (danced by Cari Bellinghausen and Claudia Hublak) consisted almost entirely of wide ports de bras that, as the title said, embraced and detained. In the lush, floor-bound Anahata, named after the "follow your heart" chakra, Bellinghausen weightily partnered Rebecca Gilbert in a duet of overlapping limbs and quietness that eventually curled back to its beginning.
In Epitaphe de Marie, former West Wave Dance Festival artistic director Joan Lazarus made an able guest appearance as a woman who belonged and didn’t to a group. She periodically entered into dynamic encounters with it but ultimately walked away. It’s a piece about loss, a little simplistic in its expression of friendship entwining duets, circle dances and probably too protracted, but as a whole carefully constructed as a series of waves of coming together and letting go. Set to Carlo Domeniconi’s increasingly raspy guitar, the work Epitaphe had a sense of ongoing welcome that was lovely, but fleeting. In one of the step-with-step duets, the dancers walked in spooning positions, the one in the back gently placing her hands on the hips of the one in front. The passage suggested an easy sense of communal intimacy that was both casual and private. What didn’t work were the several sections in which the women lifted Lazarus for overhead moves. These types of athletic maneuvers have to be immaculately rehearsed to be effective. Otherwise they look forced.
Before the two final ensemble numbers, Ceres introduced a tiny, hot solo for Bellinghausen, the company’s most distinguished dancer. The whiplash fast Angle, Angel was over before you could catch your breath. Streaming was lyrical, flowing, and oddly structured. It started out as a trio for Ceres, Bellinghausen, and Shepard. Midway through, a quartet streaked by, changing the trio’s relationships. The logic of that cause and effect escaped me. However, the smooth unfolding of torsos against precise, enigmatic arm language flowed with remarkable assuredness on a floor of shifting squares. How these people related to one another on such shifting grounds and what the significance of their initially huge shadows (designed by Max) was, I couldn’t tell.
Closing the evening was Corps de Co., which premiered this summer at the West Wave Dance Festival. It was a disappointment. Not because of the dancers, who performed reasonably well, or Ceres’s fast-paced choreography, which was multifocused and densely layered and beautifully balanced individuality with common purpose. The disappointment came from a deficiency in the venue. Integral to this piece is Austin Forbord’s excellent video derived from Ceres’s choreography. Because Dance Mission Theater doesn’t allow for backlighted projection, this key component appeared so pale that it was nearly washed out.