Ready for takeoff

Pub date June 14, 2011

DANCE Life partners running a dance company together is rare, and when it happens the couple usually keeps responsibilities distinct. In ballet, Gerald Arpino and Robert Joffrey did it for many years; Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary are making a go of it in Los Angeles. In modern dance, it is simply unheard of. Modern dance companies are one-man or one-woman affairs. But no longer: Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton have broken the mold.

A couple for the last 15 years, they plunged into choreographing together in 2007 with the splendidly original String Wreck. In 2009, they raised the ante with The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories, which used a movement choir — something Moulton had perfected in his Precision Ball Passing works — of student performers and Garrett’s professional dancers. Now they have refined that model.

The exhilarating The Experience of Flight in Dreams was a wondrous meditation on the idea of being liberated from the boundaries and restrictions — physical and intellectual — that tie us down. With Experience, Garrett and Moulton have, in fact, taken flight. This new work tightly integrates the dancers and the choir into a propulsive whole without infringing on the essential identities between the two groups.

The choir was used ingeniously. Their many hands allowed the dancers to fly or float or swoop and dive. With their fingers, they delineated individual portraits. But they also became obstacles to be overcome and roads to be traveled. At one point supine on the floor, they were the dead calling out to dancer Nol Simonse.

The choreography for the five professional dancers was so fragmented and high-pitched that the relative calm of the choir’s activity created balance. Their unisons were also much less regimented; they were alive and filled with breath.

There were dreamers of many kinds in Experience. Dudley Flores was a loner who, encased by supporting arms, periodically woke up and tried to reach for the beyond. He finally succeeded at the end when, carried above the heads of everyone, he became a living image of transcendence — though it wasn’t an image I found convincing.

There was also the petite dynamo Tanya Bello and Yu-Mien Wu in spitfire encounters of kicks, rolls, and lock-steps. When carried aloft by the choir, Bello and Wu looked as if they had sunk into pillows and seemed slightly surprised at what happened to them. Wu is a stunning newcomer with a bravura elevation and leaps that hang in the air forever. He didn’t, however, need such a long solo to prove the point.

Simonse and Carolina Czechowska’s duet had a twitchy but distanced intensity to it as they tried to make contact. Simonse’s dream was a nightmare from which he couldn’t wake up. Like a wounded soldier who comes home, he couldn’t open his fists, no matter how hard he tried. Carried out by the choir, he looked like he had been crucified, or was a carcass. Always an intense artist, he outdid himself in this show.

But not all of Experience‘s dreams were lofty and profound. Some were earthy and simple, like a high-spirited social encounter to some gypsy music. Or Flores and Simonse in a hilarious, gesture-driven meet in which they went at each other, as a friend observed, like two roosters. Or perhaps Bello who, for the heck of it, interrupted a solemn proceeding with a running, screaming fit that, no surprise here, became infectious.

In the penultimate section, the choir hoisted and lowered big panels of fabric that created billowing waves the dancers had to pass through (not unlike the worshippers did in the “Wade in the Water” section of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations). Perhaps it was meant as a transition to the finale. It didn’t seem to make much sense.

Garrett and Moulton work well together; they also choose excellent collaborators. Foremost among them was group of eight top-flight musicians who, under the guidance of Jonathan Russell, played one of the most deliciously appropriate dance scores that has been heard in these parts in a long time (along with the absolute pleasure of having live music). Oana Botez Ban’s red and black palette for the costumes worked well, as did Jacob Petrie’s supportive lighting design.