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BWW Reviews: Tiffany Mills' BERRIES AND BULLS and THE FEAST

The Tiffany Mills Company crowned their participation in Brooklyn Academy Of Music's new Professional Development Program with performances of two dance works. "The Feast (Part 1)" and evening-length work "Berries and Bulls," bring focus to Mills' signature interest in the dynamics of relationships, which are explored through text, improvisation, props, and partnering.

"The Feast" is a quintet that functions as a series of solos and duets, with the occasional bystander adding intrigue to the scenario. Sparse stagecraft exposes the inner workings of the theater, yet mysteriousness is maintained by minimal lighting, an effective juxtaposition with the title. Mills begins the piece with fellow dancer, Kevin Ho, in a gestural phrase that indicates writing with specificity. Several duets sequentially unfold with equally decipherable themes - tracing, pecking, rubbing, and swimming - until the ensemble meets in a line, each taking on elements of the aforementioned themes. There is play between the concepts of feeding and fighting, but as the lights fade on a flurry of breath and activity, no obvious resolution.

The world premiere of "Berries and Bulls," begins with the laborious task of hauling stacks of paper to create a combination statuette and prop storage area in the upper left corner of the stage. Tiffany Mills Company dancer, Jeffery Duval, sits amongst the stacks painstakingly folding a paper airplane. His fresh-faced resolve is outmaneuvered when Janis Joplin's rendition of "Cry Baby" slips through the air, and wild-haired, womanly dancer Petra van Noort confidently rocks along with Joplin's harsh and soulful chords.

Cacophony is the essence of "Berries and Bulls." Though Mills' work is notorious for fluid, physical conversation between partners, "Berries and Bulls" appears to be a conversation between several people who are not ready for one another. Disconnect is a constant, but it is magnified more by text and theatrics than by movement. Strong evocations of nostalgia, aggression, and frustration are delivered but rarely receive predictable reactions. Company dancer Kevin Ho attempts to reminisce with fellow company member Emily Blackman-Pope, yet she is completely resistant. Emily Blackman-Pope tries to rile Jeffery Duval with taunting song and dance, but he never breaks. He seems to enjoy the process. Petra Van Noort spends much of the performance trying to simultaneously soothe and organize everyone to little avail.

It is difficult to not feel left out of "Berries and Bulls." The dancers seem to be personifying themselves - addressing one another by their real names - but their delivery of lines is more akin to reciting a script than a conversation between close friends. At times laughter is inevitable, but it is unclear whether the laughter is welcome. The scripted bickering is constant and, as public bickering often does, leaves uneasiness. The understanding of most potentially intimate moments is stunted by irrelevant observations of dry compositional concepts such as anatomy, architecture, intellect, technique, and contact class.

The dancers performing "Berries and Bulls," including an ensemble of ten guest performers, are lovely, strong, and a pleasure to watch, but the script is often too quickly redirecting the movement. To indulge in the unusual closeness of the forces that continue to clash throughout the work would be a satisfying experience.

Photo Credit: Julie Lemberger

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