“Love, Etcetera,” Liz Lerman Dance Exchange
Gonda Theatre, Davis Performing Arts Center
February 14, 2008
By Lisa Traiger
© 2008 by Lisa Traiger
The simplicity of “Nocturnes,” a modest and touching series of love vignettes to the achey-breaky twang of country-western icon Willy Nelson, is deceptive. The dance explores ever-green ideas of love, lust, loneliness and heartbreak, but with Lerman’s multigenerational cast, a pair of embracing dancers over the age of 50 continues to carry meaning freighted with long years of experience, in ways that a partnership awash in youthful vigor, rarely can.
At the comfortably intimate Gonda Theater on Georgetown University’s campus, the latest Dance Exchange company members haven’t yet assimilated those layers of meaning, the extra baggage that comes with a work so simply yet meaningfully crafted. Lerman choreographed the piece in 1996 and it premiered on a very different company at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Like many choreographers, here the company members contributed to the process. With empty spaces throughout the piece, the work demands of its dancers much shading, careful and precise attention to detail and an understanding of the depth of spare moments and the in-betweens of the choreography. In the case of “Nocturnes,” the original dancers with their unique characters and movement traits were fully vested in the work. Watching it this past week, I remembered elegant Bea Wattenberg with her high cheek bones and chic silver hair filling the musical and emotive pauses with telling looks, pregnant with both longing and knowing of past and present. And, equally lovely, Judith Jourdin, her direct gaze weighted with memory, and lush Andy Torres, bountiful and full of life, yet equally experienced as a dancer of a certain age.
The younger dancers were as important, though not always as memorable, at least for me, merely for the fact that their beauty, their physical finesse, eclipsed their age, and in “Nocturnes,” aging gracefully was –- and remains -- the lesson and crux of the work. Bold Jeffrey Gunshol, tall and striking Kimberli Boyd, more compact Michelle Pearson, I believe, also danced at the piece’s premiere. Wiry and ageless Thomas Dwyer –- who appeared in the original cast and continues to dance with the company --here reprised his role, running breathlessly to Nelson’s rendition of “Blue Skies,” then later solidly partnering both Shula Strassfeld and Elizabeth Johnson with his stoic approach.
This recent revival of “Nocturnes” emphasizes just how important the smallest moments can be, especially in a company where the biggest issue is that the dance tent should be expansive enough to include everybody and every body. A brush of a cheek, a turn of a head, a hand to another’s shoulder -– these sparest of gestural signals must carry weight and meaning beyond mere execution. Yet this current crop of dancers lacks the nuance a work like this requires. In time, one hopes, they will acclimate themselves and discover their own stories in the spare steps, filling in the blanks so “Nocturnes” won’t remain a cipher but will, instead, resonate its fullest splendor.
The program, a Valentine's Day special of sorts, also featured “The Farthest Earth From Thee,” Peter DiMuro’s homage to the bard, William Shakespeare. With a mixed-abilities cast and a set of props that appears raided from a warehouse -- rolling ladders, shopping carts, cabbages and all sorts of sundry things with wheels -- the work, which debuted last season, relies on narrator/central character Susie Richard, whose ever-changing accents and comedic asides, keep things rolling forward and across the stage. “The Farthest…” remains a hodgepodge of spoken word, Shakespearean verse and commentary on the subject of the 14-line poetic form. It carries in its structure and approach many Lerman tricks of the trade: a multi-abilities cast, a narrator/commentator, a slew of research and amusing asides thrown in to keep viewers’ minds engaged if -– or when -- the choreography lags, and, a Lerman trademark for her large-scale works, the simplest choreography that a wide range of dancers and non-dancers alike have a chance of learning and performing. The work, though, lacks the polish and depth of many of Lerman’s own recent opuses, including her exploration of the science and art behind mapping the human genome in “Ferocious Beauty” or even her unstinting focus on genocide and the Nuremburg trials in “Small Dances About Big Ideas.”
Published February 17, 2008
© 2008 by Lisa Traiger