Above: Loretta Thomas and the ensemble, photo by Melanie Futorian
Thursday June 23rd, 2016 - The high-vaulted space of St Mark's Church can become oppressively warm on a Summer evening, but it was worth this minor discomfort tonight as the engaging dancers of Catherine Gallant/DANCE and Dances by Isadora, under the artistic direction of Ms. Gallant, presented a program offering a wide-ranging musical experience, choreography both new and venerated, and dancing that unfailingly found the heart of each piece presented. The performance affirmed both the power and the poetry of the feminine spirit, seen tonight in its many aspects.
Above: Janete Gondim and Eleanor Bunker rehearsing Catherine Gallant's The Secret
The evening could not have a had a more propitious start that Ms. Gallant's The Secret; like white-clad angels, the two dancers - Janete Gondim and Eleanor Bunker - continually conveyed the sense of wonder which permeates this dancework like a delicious fragrance.
With Ygor Shetsov at the piano, playing the Scriabin Poeme in F-sharp major, the two dancers moved about the space with a sort of quiet urgency, pausing to marvel at the treasure they had found, and which they were holding in the palms of their hands. The choreography flows gorgeously on the music: simple moves which take on a poetic resonance in the personalities of the two women; Janete and Eleanor were captivating to watch, and The Secret joins a short list of danceworks I've encountered in the past 20 years that ideally meld music, mood, and movement, leaving a lasting impression.
The premiere of Ms. Gallant's Retrograde Universe (above, in Melanie Furotian's photo) offered a fine contrast to The Secret. Alternating passages of silence with music of Steve Reich, this piece found excellent interpreters in Michelle Cohen, Megan Minturn, Erica Lessner, and Charlotte Henrickson. The girls periodically flung themselves to the floor, or burst into paroxysms of anxious movement, whilst at other moments they simply stand stock still, striking sculptural poses. Whimsical projections of newsprint and of an airplane whose pilot had clearly lost his sense of direction added a touch of mystery to the work, which seemed at times to be going on a bit too long, but which was kept on track by the energies of the four dancers.
Finally, a Gallant work created in 2009, features a score by Rome prize-winning composer Lisa Bielawa. Using texts from Franz Kafka, the composer creates music of haunting sonic textures as performed by violinist/vocalist Christina Courtin. Loretta Thomas danced this solo tonight, swathed in a long black veil. Her body 'spoke' the music, expressing an almost desperate loneliness. Ms. Courtin, in addition to being an emotive violinist, has a voice - plaintive and clear - which makes a poignant effect. At the end, Ms. Thomas, an artist to her fingertips, walked slowly upstage as the lights faded.
Above: Alvaro Gonzalez and Michelle Cohen in Meeting #12; photo by Melanie Futorian
A domestic drama, Meeting #12, opens with the dancers Michelle Cohen and Alvaro Gonzalez seated at a table. Much of this work is danced in silence, with interjections from Schubert's E-flat major trio occasionally cropping up. The couple are enmeshed in a quarrel which becomes tempestuous, and the table and chairs eventually become part of the choreography. The beauteous Ms. Cohen and the scruffily handsome Mr. Gonzalez are ideally cast, and they make every moment of the work count. In the end, they find that actually conversing with one another may be the best solution. Projections of puffy clouds against a bright blue sky provide a visual counterpoint to the cramped kitchen in which the lovers have been arguing.
The second half of the program was given over to works of Isadora Duncan.
Above: from Valse Brillante, photo by Melanie Futorian
Loretta Thomas has staged Isadora's Valse Brillante (created c. 1910) for the Company, and it was danced this evening with lively grace by Jessie King, Amelia Sanders, Ella Lang, and Chanda Cragnotti. At the piano, Yegor Shetsov reveled in the ebb and flow of the Chopin Grande Valse Brillante.
Three solos - each set to a Scriabin étude - were engrossing in their contrasting moods, and in the committed interpretations of the dancers.
In Crossing, Scriabin-turbulence buffeted the hesitant anxiousness of Catherine Gallant, who danced with great physical devotion, mirroring the stormy music. The pain of loss and the thought of "nevermore" were movingly evoked by Loretta Thomas in her sorrowful performance of Mother, one of the Duncan works recalling the tragic death of Isadora's two young children. Personifying feminine strength and the courage of resistance, Kristen Foote, a guest artist from the Limón Dance Company, gave a performance of radiant authority in Revolutionary. Mr. Shetsov played the three Scriabin études which accompany these solos with virtuosity and dramatic nuance.
Catherine Gallant and Loretta Thomas have been working on the reconstruction of two movements of an untitled work - set to movements of the Beethoven 7th symphony - which Isadora performed as a solo between 1904 and 1909 on US and European tours.
Ms. Gallant (clad in white in the above rehearsal photo) danced the leading role tonight in her re-imagining of the symphony's Allegretto, and Loretta Thomas has choreographed the Presto. Watching the Gallant dancers in this evening's performance, we are reminded of the unique position held by Isadora Duncan in the history of dance, and of the continuing necessity of seeing her dances lovingly revived and maintained, so that new generations can both honor and enjoy her work, both for its historical value and its continuing resonance in modern times.
Here are some Melanie Futorian images from the two Beethoven movements, the Presto of which closed tonight's performance on a joyous note.
Loretta Thomas (in white) and the ensemble