Simone Ferro at Danceworks
Simone Ferro’s new show provides some pretty clear lessons in what makes good choreography good and bad choreography bad.
Ferro’s approach is collaborative. Her ensemble works drew out particular strengths of dancers and led Ferro to coherently develop and arrange the moves they brought to the table.
Dylan Baker, Holly Kesky, Simon Andreas Eichinger and Abby Server are speedy and sharp and good at jazzy ballroom styles. Ferro gave them Marcos Suzano‘s “Urrou, Urrou,” an uptempo Brazilian dance tune, and turned them loose in a sort of avant-garde Afro-Brazilian jitterbug. Coherence rose from the logic of energy and leverage work on gravity and momentum. The fun of it, beyond the acrobatics, lay in seeing the dancers create physics problems for themselves and then solve them in clever ways. The process gave the dance larger rhythms of question and answer phrasing.
“Fingerprint,” for Mary-Elizabeth Fenn and Ben Follensbee, had a different tone but worked much the same way. They wore cargo pants, and Fenn was in toe shoes, and they danced to the driving Brazilian rock of Nacao Zumbi. The sentiment was of the erotic sublimated into the athletic. Fenn has a wonderful animal quality; she flung herself at Follensbee, who corralled and diverted her energy like a big-league matador. Sudden interlocking forms, explosive starts and on-a-dime stops demanded utter precision, which the dancers delivered.
“Snapshots,” an extended piece for eight, went further, structurally. The dance, to urbane, easygoing jazz by bassist Charlie Haden and pianist Kenny Barron, opens with dancers in street clothes casually moving through space as if in their own private worlds. They dance a few steps, walk or lean against a wall. Little by little, they form twos and threes and dance in unison. These groupings form and dissolve, but become more and more the rule as time goes on.
In the background, vintage photos are projected onto a scrim. Translucent images of the dancers, delayed by a few, form an intermediate layer of action between the photos and the live dancers. These video ghosts of what we’ve just seen live serve as counterpoint and add a certain formality to a casual dance.
The video also makes it easier to see that the increasingly forceful and organized ensemble dancing extends and repeats the casual motifs from the outset. Snapshots grows from little seeds, and that growth engages our eyes and minds. That is the stuff of a good dance.
First Song, a solo Ferro made for the very able Mary Madsen, and Prelude, which Ferro danced herself, lacked that stuff.
I’m sure that the moves Ferro devised for Madsen feel right to both of them, but that feeling doesn’t transfer. I wanted something to follow, some argument or through-line, but found nothing other than this move and the next and the next, until the music stopped.
Ferro couldn’t move much because of space constraints, and the movement she did manage was clunky. She might have been doing whatever popped into her head, including waggling her fingers during some flashy Ysaye violin runs.
A shallow, narrow pool of water was beneath Ferro’s feet. She made more of this as the piece went on, finally getting to her knees and sloshing it over her head and long, black sheath dress. The intent might have been symbolic or climactic. But it was just a person splashing water on herself.
I’m sure all of this felt right to Ferro, and it probably has some personal meaning. But feeling right to the dancer and being right for the audience are two different things.
This program, given at the Danceworks studio, will be repeated at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday (Nov. 6-7) and 2:30 p.m. Sunday (Nov. 8). For complete cast and credits and an interview with Simone Ferro, click here. For tickets, visit the Danceworks website or call 414 277-8480.
Other reviews: Elaine Schmidt.