Artistic abstraction, whether in painting, music or dance, necessitates the development of its own organizing principles. At the opening concerts of its fall season Friday at the Allen Theatre, GroundWorks DanceTheater presented three works that trafficked in a meta-language of abstract narrative, each with its own solution to the puzzle of meaning.
Two of the dances were new and having their first performances. “Emergent” was artistic director David Shimotakahara’s contribution, and “After Chorus” was the product of a creative residency earlier this year with Israeli artists Noa Zuk (choreography) and Ohad Fishof (dramaturgy and music). The company also repeated its production of Kate Weare’s “Inamorata,” which was danced to acclaim last season.
Despite a vocabulary of highly stylized steps and gestures that were at once inventively geometric and psychologically revealing, “Inamorata” (from the Italian, a beloved woman) had the most recognizable narrative of the three dances.
Weare’s choreography is always clear, delineating relationships among the five dancers (three women and two men) as they combine and recombine in a psychodrama about the nature of romantic, and sometimes sexual, ardor.
Gary Lenington brought a muscularity to his role as a man who controls the inamorata’s every move. Shimotakahara was convincing in his portrayal of emotional fragility, and the way fragility can be used to passively control an object of desire.
Tellingly, the women (Annika Sheaff, Noelle Cotler and Felise Bagley) had their most serene and creative moments when they danced with each other, suggesting that the energies created by traditional romance can adulterate the creative impulse.
This writer’s first response, upon the conclusion of Zuk and Fishof’s “After Chorus,” was, “Again, please.”
The dance began with a tableau of odd postures and alien gestures, while a small chorus of male voices (presumably composer Fishof) sang a long introduction: “In our culture / In our systems / In our countdowns / In our unders / In our overs . . . / In our dreams / They’re not what they seem.”
There then followed a lengthy abstract narrative that operated well beyond convention, though purpose and structure were always evident. The men (Chuck Wilt and Lenington) were dressed in thin polo shirts and shorts, while the women (Bagley, Cotler and Sheaff) wore tight crop tops and shiny, brightly colored, form-fitting pants, designed by Janet Bolick.
In the piece’s most interesting feature, the dancers vocalized nonverbal phonemes that seemed to dictate the bizarre and physically demanding movements.
One had the sense that a primal drama was being acted out that involved creation and civilization. Most of the accompanying music was from a short piece called “Comes Unbidden” by Nate Young, and its ominous palette of metallic tones, ruminative percussion and electronic overtones sounded like nothing so much as alien transmissions, received but not understood.
Shimotakahara’s “Emergent,” here in its debut, was almost classical in its elegance, following the enigma of “After Chorus.” The dancers (Bagley, Cotler, Sheaff and Lenington) wore costumes by Kristine Davies that evoked swimwear, and Dennis Dugan’s imaginative lighting created a combination of discrete light and dark areas such as one might encounter in murky aquatic depths.
Especially nice was the effect of horizontal spots beamed from the wings, creating a dappled space for the dancers to flash in and out of. In its focus on the interactive beauty of unison and contrapuntal movement, “Emergent” was maybe the most abstract dance of the evening.
By MARK SATOLA