Sunday March 29, 2009 - Back to the City Center Studios tonight with Evan to watch a rehearsal by the Lydia Johnson Dance Company of their latest work - as yet untitled - to the music of the Polish composer Henryk Gorecki. This was preceded by excerpts from Lydia's 2004 work IN CONVERSATION set to the spectacular Violin Concerto of Philip Glass.
Waiting for the dancing to begin, Evan and I were speaking of the sheer number of invitations to dance events we receive on a daily basis. Sorting out what to see and what to miss increasingly becomes a dilemma as we try to decide from a press release whether it is something we will like or not; then it's a matter of scheduling and also of hoping to space events out reasonably so there is time in between to reflect rather than dashing madly from one venue to another and never having anything really sink in. Fortunately I have struck it rich in many of my choices, such as TAKE Dance or Miro Magloire's New Chamber Ballet.
Up until this evening Lydia Johnson was just a name I was vaguely familiar with; what made me say 'yes' to this invitation was the announcement that she would be working to music of Gorecki. Music is always the key element for me when it comes to enjoying dance; if I like the music, I'm halfway there before the dancing even commences.
So this is what happened: Lydia Johnson became overnight one of my favorite contemporary choreographers. Her dancers all appear to have strong classical ballet background and are wonderfully fluent in presenting what Lydia asks of them while each also shows keen individuality and personal magnetism. Lydia's style seems to me very demanding physically, making us aware of the workings of the human body while always imaginatively aligning movement to the music .
Introducing the works, Lydia's love of music shone thru in her words. Then her dancers took the floor and within seconds I knew I had found something I loved.
In excerpts from IN CONVERSATION, dancer Jessica Sand (who reminds me of Alexandra Ansanelli) immediately began 'speaking' to me with her superbly fluid movement; there is a gestural language here and Jessica's dancing has a nice feeling of the poetic. She is partnered by an enigmatic dark-haired and dark-eyed young man named Robert Robinson. The bearded dancer immediately swept Jessica into a spacious lift, his strength as a partner surprising in view of his slender frame. Beyond that he showed elegant port de bras and a presence with an intriguing touch of mystery. Watching these two dancers move thru Lydia's pas de deux with such extraordinary focus and grace as the gorgeous Glass score filled the room was quite an experience. I felt a deep connection to the music and to the expressive commitment of the dancers.
Meanwhile, Tucker Ty Davis stood on the sidelines. He seemed rather unassuming and his more hunky build made me wonder what kind of dancer he would be. The answer when he started to move was compelling: he is passionate, powerful, agile and fearless. His interjected solo lasted only moments but it was enough to put him right up high on my list of dancers to watch in future.
The Glass score with its hypnotic rhythms and haunting minor-key lyricism practically screams: "Dance to me!" It seemed to me that music, dancers and choreographer had met in a perfect union. And after such an exhilirating experience I had to keep reminding myself "It's just a rehearsal". Now I can't wait to see it in full performance setting.
Above: dancers Tucker Ty Davis and Jessica Sand of the Company. Performance photos are by Julie Lemberger.
After a very short break, all nine of the Company's dancers appeared in the untitled Gorecki. Still a work in progess, the piece uses part of the composer's Harpsichord Concerto ('...like the score of an old horror movie"...as Lydia aptly decribed it) and part of his String Quartet #1. Lydia stated that the two movements may eventually have a connecting interlude but I didn't think it needed anything more; it looks so good and responds so well to the music just as it is.
At first the five women seem to be in their own world, moving with quiet intensity in patterns which seem to express that they are an isolated group but not discontented with their situation. As the four men join them, the movement becomes more expansive. Couples form, and the large group often splinters into trios who perform synchronized gestures as the dancing swirls around them; I especially liked this aspect of the piece. The work is both visually and musically extremely satisfying and again the individual dancers continually draw the eye from one to another. Jessica Sand, Tucker Ty Davis, Kerry Shea and the blonde Eric Vlach were outstanding in the leading roles here. The ensemble were anything but anonymous: rather each dancer makes a personal mark on the choreography. I look forward to putting names to faces so that I can properly enthuse over their individual efforts.
Lydia Johnson Dance Company will be at the Ailey Center (55th and 9th Ave) July 16 - 18. I've already circled the dates.
Henryk Gorecki is best known for his Symphony #3, the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs which memorializes the victims of the Holocaust. Normally when I am about to hear a live performance of a composer's music I avoid listening to any of his work for a few days or weeks prior to the event but today on this gloomy, cold Sunday I felt a desire to hear my favorite recording of the 3rd Symphony featuring soprano Zofia Kilanowicz. It is quite a musical journey to take.