BWW Dance Review: NIMBUS DANCE WORKS Sets Hearts Ablaze in Geolocate
The guerdon in attending a repertory company's concert is being able to savor the variety of work on display. Nimbus Dance Works' recent concert at Gibney Dance Center's Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center showcased this virtue to grand effect. Founded by Artistic Director Samuel Pott - a former soloist with The Martha Graham Dance Company and leading dancer with American Repertory Ballet - Nimbus places special emphasis on presenting work that engages communities across all spectrums. In celebration of its eleventh season, the company presented "Geolocate" - a collection of work created by four choreographers from all over the globe - in response to hateful rhetoric currently heard with alarming frequency in the news. This concept clearly spoke to a wide of array of people; the concert that I attended - closing night, June 4th, 2016 - contained the most diverse audience I have ever encountered.
"Geolocate" opened with Taiwanese choreographer Huang Yi's "Shadow of Sound". In a dim light, Harumi Elders was revealed crouched on the floor with an ever-present ripple traveling throughout her body. As she swam across the stage - like a stream traversing wild ravines - Ms. Elders seemed to transform into water itself. Scott Willits - strong as steel - appeared from out of the darkness upstage to join Ms. Elders in a duet that relied upon him tracing the outlines of her body and catching her at the joints to initiate new directions. It was not unlike watching calligraphy being written in a cauldron of saline. Ms. Elders withdrew and was replaced by Hannah Weeks who seemed to be a doll comprised of wet clay, ready to be shaped though minimally involved. Was "Shadows" about relationships in which both parties were not mutually invested? It certainly appeared so. In that regard, Mr. Willits was a man in search of a willing partner. Then along came the spectacular Lara Spence, who took the form of wind made flesh. As she flew about- bending to and fro along Mr. Willits' body in ever
increasing permutations of possibility - it became clear that she could not really see him. Ms. Spence was not so much dancing with Mr. Willits as she was around him. Likewise, he was not so much dancing as trying to hold onto air. In a sudden climax, Ms. Spence went limp as if she'd been shot in the back and hung like a snake's corpse suspended in Mr. Willit's hands. Finally he had her though there no longer seemed to be much of her to be had. As the light faded, Ms. Spence opened her eyes and became aware of Mr. Willits, at last. One was unsure where this new relationship would develop though there was a sense of relief that some connection had been made. The entire dance could have been an allusion to the five Classical Chinese elements - water, steel, earth, fire, wind, wood - mixing to form Galatea. Whatever the interpretation, the experience was wonderful.
Flopping limbs; swooping attitude turns; pique 90° battement with a turned in leg; open chests and arms splayed skyward en relevé; spastic twitching and arrhythmic feet beating - thank you Ohad Naharin; wide second grand plié; high jumps with stretched legs and flexed feet; chew, not quite swallow, regurgitate, and repeat ad nauseum. That was "Untitled", a bleak torrent of contemporary dance that midway through abruptly switched without reason to a tone of warmth. Created by the Turkish choreographer Korhan Basaran, this exercise in repetitive angst never coalesced into anything more than the sum of its parts: two phrases of movement in canon that sometimes mixed in counterpoint. In other words a half hour long episode of "So You Think You Can Dance" devoted to one choreographer's interpretation of a wailing ascendant vocalise interspersed with crashing chords. Nevertheless, the dancers gave it their all and a great chunk of the audience loved it.
Mr. Pott stood in as the representative choreographer for The United States of America with "Surface Tension", which opened with a trio of bodies weaving amongst one another. The image was of an ouroboros not consuming its tail but begetting a new head or of the Wyrd Sisters summoning a spirit. As strains of Brahms emerged - replacing the grating sound of dry seaweed and rocks scraping against each other - this Rubik's triangle of bodies morphed into a lush pas de trois that found Mr. Willits alternating between dancing first with Ms. Elder and then Ms. Spence. A sense of ambivalence pervaded the scene with each character eager to be paired though anxious at the prospect of inflicting rejection. Suddenly a tableau was struck with the trio looking downstage towards Marina Bilterijst, who stood majestically unperturbed by the unfolding drama. As she slowly traveled across the stage it became clear that we were witnessing a memory play; Ms. Bilterijst's life was literally flashing before our eyes. Structurally, the ballet followed the outline of an anti-morality play; rather than being abandoned as she descended into death, Ms. Bilterijst's loved ones refused to desert her. Indeed, this coterie would have crossed over into the great unknown had she not firmly cast them aside. Following a tapestry of gorgeous duets, trios, and a pas de cinq - special plaudits to Ms. Elders and Mr. Willits for excavating gradations of character that kept this drama grounded in humanity - Ms. Bilterijst took the stage in an exquisitely rendered solo that painted a portrait of regret at departing too soon. But this woman was not one to wallow. Instead she allowed her entire life to speed forward to the moment of demise before bidding her friends farewell. It is rare to come upon a concert piece that so elegantly encapsulates what it means to lose a loved one, and yet that is precisely what Mr. Pott has accomplished in choreographing this extraordinary treatise on death.
"Geolocate" closed with the New York premiere of award winning choreographer Darshan Singh Bhuller's "Mapping". This magical masterpiece took us through the stuffy walls of regimented training - at what could have been a martial arts monastery - to the salvation that is universally recognized as the weekend. Seeing this in dance form was especially poignant. Dancers spend three quarters of their lives training in the studio and nearly every moment is serious work. With all of that pressure boiling over, dancers take any chance they can to show or goof off. I speak from experience. It is impossible to count how many twirling lifts in the supermarket, jetés into swimming pools, or ridiculous snap shots I've taken with friends throughout my life. "Mapping" captured this feeling perfectly. Charting the horizon from ritualistic practice to incredulity shattering stunts, this spectacular tribute to joy set the audience ablaze with peals of guffaws. The dancers played Mr. Bhuller's magnificent choreography to a hilt - his multimedia trick in particular was pulled off with aplomb - creating a resonating feeling of nostalgia. Here were kids at play. How wonderful to recognize ourselves in them. Two dancers deserve special praise: Ms. Spence was a whirlwind of wonder - her pitch perfect turns sent currents of wind buffeting into the audience - and Mr. Tracy Dunbar gave a master class in clowning that drove me into spasms of delight. Instead of reading this review, go see Mr. Bhuller's work for yourself. He has recently relocated from London to New York making it that much easier to do so. While this is only the second work of his that I have had the good fortune to experience, I feel confident in declaring that he belongs to the highest echelon of creative talents. I can offer no higher praise.
With more hits than misses, "Geolocate" went above and beyond in presenting a marvelous evening of dance. I cannot wait to see what Nimbus Dance Works and Mr. Pott offer next. For more information about the company, follow them on Facebook.
Photo Credit for "Surface Tension" belongs to Megan Maloy
Photo Credit for "Shadow of Sound" and "Mapping" belongs to Tanya Ghosh