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BWW Review: Gabrielle Lamb Presents her Choreography

On November 18, 2016, at the Baruch Arts Center's Mason Hall, Gabrielle Lamb presented two of her numerous works, via two dance groups, The Joffrey Ensemble and her own company, Pigeonwing DancE. Lamb is a New York based choreographer who was a long time soloist with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal and in 2009 was invited by Christopher Wheeldon to join his company Morphoses in New York City. Her choreography is contemporary with a flair offered by her own personality and point of view.

The program opened with Tessellations (meaning: repacking things), performed by The Joffrey Ensemble (Michael Blake, Artistic Director). The music was lively and fun, "Sport et Couture" and "Espina" by the Amestroy Trio followed by "Sea of Love", by Phil Phillips performed by Cat Power. Lamb's choreography is musical, filling the music and the space with individual and group activity that kept the attention of the audience. It seemed to me, however, that the young dancers were slightly behind the music, thus not quite keeping up with the marvelous musicality of the piece. It was an improvement, never the less, over the premiere, May 26, 2015, at New York Live Arts, which I happened to attend.

Pigeonwing Dance ("to cut a pigeon wing": Dictionary of American Regional English - To execute intricate dance steps dance in a fancy way), under Lamb's direction integrates the rigor of classical training into a unique contemporary movement language. The group performed her Bewilderness, a world premiere, to music of Joan Cambon, selections from Reshaping the Seasons for Kaori's Body; and Henry Purcell, Music for a While performed by Christina Pluhar, with L'Arpeggiata, and by Muriel Bruno Dodo's Lament by Purcell, performed by Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt; and Josef Van Wissem, Temple Dance of the Soul from It is Time for You to Return. The cast included Emilie Durville, dancing the Prologue, dressed in white. She entered alone going to a standing spotlight, on the stage, moving it to reposition it. After achieving this she left the stage, not to return until the bows, at the end. The other seven dancers, wearing colored jeans and t-shirts or leotards and socks (as all of her dancers wore socks), entered moving in groups, dissolving into other groups and movements. The last image of the group lifting one of the girls was powerful. Having previously seen Lamb dance, a gorgeous, long and lithe dancer, I saw her expression being executed by the company, leaving me longing to see Lamb dance again.

There was a smoke machine, lending a nearly trance-like feeling. The lighting, by Barry Steele, dim with spot lights, was an added character in this work. The choreography would evoke a feeling only to morph into another feeling when the direction changed.

It was not until after the performance that I read the program notes, which gave an explanation: "Bewilderness was inspired by the writings of historian and activist Rebecca Solnit. Her book A Paradise Built in Hell prompted me to question whether humans are more naturally competitive or cooperative... Addressing such matters in dance is never easy... Other parts were inspired by our recent election, which showed all too clearly how easily groups can be manipulated by fear. Overall, however, I wanted to present a more hopeful viewpoint by placing an emphasis on our altruistic tendencies. There is no need to search for a linear storyline. Stories and characters do emerge, but they dissolve just as quickly back into pure movement." This explanation by the choreographer shed new light on the performance I had just seen, which had not come through the dance before reading her notes. Either way, it was an interesting experience.

I look forward to seeing future work by Lamb, to experience the direction she continues to take American contemporary dance.

Photo credit: Charles Rousel

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