Nomadic Limbs deserve your attention
Nomadic Limbs, a summer project organized by Thom Dancy, brings eight great dancers and five strong dances to Next Act Theatre.
Special dancing happened Thursday evening, as Thom Dancy opened his second annual Nomadic Limbs run, this time in the dance-friendly Next Act Theatre.
Isaac Sharratt, of the Milwaukee Ballet, supplied 2 AM Trickle, in which Garrett Glassman plays an average guy in a white shirt and khakis. Glassman, a lithe, effortless sort of mover, opens with an amusing duet with a blue racquetball. He orbits its bounces with fleet, gymnastic dancing that comes off as casual — your average guy fooling around with a ball, but extraordinarily well.
He settles in to watch the world go by and sometimes interact with it. Lucky for him, the world includes the flirty Nicole Teague; two “sisters,” leggy Caitlin Sullivan as the drama queen and athletic Tara Gragg as the practical one; Kayla Schroepfer as a girl-gone-wild and Tyler Schnese as her up-to-it target; and Braeden Barnes shedding his shirt and showing off his moves.
Clare Fader’s clever songs, which sound rather like 1920s Kurt Weill, accompany all this. Sharratt weaves the most subtle references to the lyrics into dances that move deftly from riding the beat to writing the melodies in the air. Sharratt uses the song lyrics to help us read meaning into the movement in fairly specific ways without belaboring the points. The dancers listen and make characters whole and distinct without uttering a word.
Good pianist and good sport Steven Ayers allowed Teague, Barnes, Connor Frain, Sullivan and Schroepfer to push him around in Dancy’s And Etudes. The imperturbable Ayers played Chopin on a small upright on a wheeled platform as the dancers shoved and dragged it about. Their sinuous extravagance of gesture was at once beautiful, in tune with the Romantic music and very funny, given their hauling task.
They wore pastel socks and black trunks and later added black tailcoats, which came in handy for swing-your-partnering. Several wheeled piano benches added another dimension to the fun, but I hasten to add that the humor was not antic or slapstick. Amid the comedy, Dancy and company respected the sentiments of the music, its shades of melancholy. In the end, Teague and Ayers were alone; she sat down next to him to play the final chord as the lights faded on a poignant moment.
Dancy was more mischievous with the adagio of a Beethoven clarinet sonata in You Gotta Be Kidding Me. Here, the diminutive Glassman strives to get a reaction from the tall, still and stoic Alec Roth. They wore Balanchine white over black, in the way of The Four Temperaments. I took this piece to be at least in part an affectionate send-up of Balanchine modernism. Even as Glassman went all Yosemite Sam on the unflappable Roth — he even scaled the taller man and struck a look-out’s pose at the top — he snapped into beautiful classical lines and deportment and broke them into angular planes. Very Balanchine in a nutty piece.
Choreographer Justin Leaf appeared in drag — prim black dress and high black pumps — as the Teacher in his White Jacket Only. Early on, he corrects himself in voice-over: “Did I say white jacket? I meant strait jacket!” From there we plunge into a dreamy trance-dance disco. Teague enters, all dewy ingenue in a white slip of a dress, and the black-clad dancers become menacing bees — to the tune of a jazz-trumpet setting of Flight of the Bumble Bee. The whole thing turns out to be something of a rescue melodrama, as Teague tries to free white-clad Braeden Barnes from the clutches of the lunatic teacher and her minions. This amusing, surreal dance doesn’t make a lot of sense, but then, neither does Fidelio. It’s a dream, a nightmare with a silver lining of laughter and a surprisingly touching central duet, in which the irresistible Teague draws out her emotionally scarred beloved.
Gragg and Schnese put the jewel in the crown of this program, in the form of Cheyla Clawson’s NosuchSymbiosis, to chant-like music from Lisa Gerrard’s Ashes and Snow. The dancers held their bodies tautly throughout and moved as if the air were viscous. Even at high speed, they created a sense of resistance to movement. They made you aware of the mass of their bodies and limbs, of the energy involved in moving them, but with no sense of strain.
This sensual dance calls for a good deal of movement through the torso and much close contact between the dancers. Gragg and Schnese were fearless and full-bodied with this intimacy. They also kept their cool — with all that touching, this isn’t a sexy dance. They probe, they explore all the interlocking shapes of their bodies like two vines finding the most symbiotic way to twine. It’s just somehow necessary.
Clawson phrases in a strikingly original way. Long moments of very slow, tense movement burst into flurries of activity that end in some novel shape, often a fascinating knot made of two bodies. Those phrases — always tautly held — mesh beautifully with the music and the ethos of the piece. Notch the arrow, draw back the bow string, release the energy, hit the target.
The Next Act Theatre box office is handling tickets; $15, $12 for students with ID. Performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 25-28.