Friday March 5, 2010 - California-based Backhausdance are visiting NYC at Joyce SoHo. The intrepid young Company raised the money to fund their trip to the East Coast with an on-line pledge drive and arrived in fine fettle. A full house welcomed the dancers warmly. Photo above: Jack Hartin.
In the opening work ARRIVE, Backhausdance introduced themselves to New York as a Company of vivid and highly individualized dancers who are both technically strong and physically attractive. Choreographer Jennifer Backhaus has a rich movement vocabulary based on fluidity of motion and very much geared to show off the distinctive personalities of her dancers. Evocative lighting by Tom Durante enhanced this and each work on the programme.
Inspired by these words from poet Maya Angelou "Love recognizes no barriers", ARRIVE celebrates the joy of being alive as the dancers wend their way thru the Backhaus combinations with clarity and passion. Partnering possibilities are fresh and imaginative; sometimes the women partner each other. Solo opportunities allow us to 'meet' the dancers one-on-one and the whole ensemble seemed wonderfully propelled by the music of Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky.
Two of the Company's dancers, Tawny Chapman and William Lu in a Tim Agler photo.
Having established themselves and seized our interest, the dancers turned to a more sombre and measured pace in a world premiere, INCANDESCENT. Here again the individual characteristics of each dancer were illuminated and each one 'spoke' to us in his or her own dance-voice. As the mood shifts, a piquant musette theme is heard and the work brightens. Again partnered passages made a strong impression. I did feel though, that for all the many appealing qualities of the work and the excellent dancing that it was just a few minutes too long overall. A judicious bit of trimming down would greatly enhance the piece.
Similarly, SHIFT which opened the second half was in need of some compression. At times it seemed that the choreography was merely applied to fill out the music - some of which seemed rather anonymous - rather than being inspired by it. While filled with beautiful images and movement, certain passages were just a little too prolonged. On the other hand, the dancers continued to impress. In the end I felt that the music chosen for both INCANDESCENT and SHIFT was maybe not ideally contrasted, despite its attractiveness.
SITTING ON JANUARY provided a colorful and brilliant finale. Tim Agler photo, above. Set to infectious tunes by Bela Fleck and again beautifully lit, SITTING ON JANUARY abounds in wit and grace. Each dancer enters with a wooden chair and the chairs themselves become dancers as they are partnered, stacked, tipped, swirled and arranged in patterns. William Lu gave a memorable performance in his agility and sense of daring as he pounced and balanced from chair to chair like a charming, enigmatic cat. But really all of the dancers excelled and it was so pleasing to study their faces and forms at close range in the intimate SoHo setting.
Kokyat was craving to get his camera out and capture the performance; he especially enjoyed the first and last works. If Backhausdance were based in New York, we'd really be wanting to get to know and photograph these dancers: they are just the sort of people we find most intriguing and appealing.