BWW Review: Lydia Johnson Dance, June 7, 2019
After watching the beautiful Lydia Johnson Dance program last night, June 7, 2019, I had this whim: what if Lydia Johnson was currently meeting with Louis Horst, one of the 20th century's internationally renowned choreography pedagogues.
Horst: Ms. Johnson, how do you describe your style, your structure?
Johnson: I can respectfully say that my structure remains-how shall I put it, mine; It dictates to me. I don't superimpose anything on it. The dancers are free to bring their own emotions, thoughts, whims to it. Dance the notes and embellish the movement.
Horst: Ms. Johnson, that is very interesting, but could you elaborate a bit more.
Johnson: If the structure dictates, I would be a lost cause. The imbalance of men and women in my company being one of them. I am also on a budget, I appear only once in New York every year for a few days run, and I can only provide costumes of a small color palette-white, black and then red for some vibrancy. I have to make do. But within that slight stretch, I still believe that all my dances give heed to the most crucial rule of choreography: if it's not danceable, by which I mean the music totally gets in your way, and your steps are nothing but mere cacophony, obscuring the very heart of what they're supposed to represent-don't do it.
OK, it's a fantasy. Still, I so much enjoyed Johnson's work that I wish she would have a more extended season in New York. I know the obstacles, as I've already stated them and which apply to so many smaller dance companies: money, lack of time, money, rehearsal space, money, not enough dancers, money-and money and money; there's no way to avoid the topic. While we all hear about the star choreographers, there are many other stars out there-it only they could be discovered.
Putting that aside, not everyone wants to be a star, to have their name in the NY Times every other day. How about steady work?
One of the problems with companies that so irregularly appear is that you have nothing to compare them with, year after year. You are so busy taking notes on one new dance that you've never seen-you can't decipher them later, you get confused when you get home and think that you'd like to see the program once more, but you can't until the next year. So we write, and many times forget.
Clearing offered three pas de deux, with a small corps of women. Although I am not a passionate admirer of the music of Philip Glass, I found Johnson's treatment to be exacting, pulling the most from the repetitive music. Trio Sonata, set to George Frideric Handel, has a very austere look, yet the dancing is anything but. Johnson has seen the music and transferred it to stage terms with formations that delightfully collapse and then pick up, the music always pushing the dancers to take just another gentle step. Nothing is prolonged, everything is set, but dancers are allowed to bring that something extra and unique to their interpretations--which I have found is the only problem with Johnson's choreography. It is sometimes too neat; it fits. Why no expansion, something crossing the border?
How wonderful to see Craig Hall, now ballet master of the New York City Ballet, back on stage in Night and Dreams, set to five Schubert lieder, sung to taped Ian Bostridge. I am not usually an admirer of Schubert lieder ballets, and this one did not always convince me, but in the movements that Johnson has given to Hall, he goes two steps further in embellishing, not so much with his technique, but with the human warmth that emanated from his stage presence. One had the feeling that if he could sing, he would. But the dance did otherwise; it allowed him to get everyone involved, even if you did not understand the German language.
A repeat of Undercurrent from last year's residency brought out all the spikiness and quirkiness of the Henry Górecki music. Just like last year, I put down my paper and pen and enjoyed what I saw. How often does one come away from a performance with a smile on a hot summer night? On this night I did.
I wish others in the dance world would take notice of Johnson's work: she knows her mind-credible because it makes all the sense in the world without touching on any one theme, compelling because it makes you sit up and notice; and enticing, because you just want to see more!!!!
Photo: Lydia Johnson Dance in "Undercurrents" © Dmitry Beryozkin