Above: a Brian Krontz photo from Lydia Johnson's UNTITLED BACH.
Friday June 17, 2011 - For the past several months Kokyat and I have been keeping tabs on Lydia Johnson Dance as they prepared for their performances at Ailey Citigroup Theater; tonight they opened, with two new works and two pieces from the repertoire. Sean Patrick Mahoney of the Paul Taylor Dance Company is making a guest appearance with Lydia's Company this season, dancing in three of the four works.
The house was nearly full and thoroughly attentive as the four works unfolded. In UNTITLED BACH Lydia has arranged movements from the composer's violin sonatas and partitas into a suite of dances that echo the inventive qualities of the music. Bach is great to dance to, and Lydia's troupe - clad in Jessica's Sand's simple and movement-enhancing costumes - seize on every opportunity, making her choreography look its best.
A low bench in the back corner serves at a platform for some unusual partnered passages, and throughout the work certain motifs of the arms and hands run like shining threads thru the visual tapestry. Lydia's central quartet of women - Laura DiOrio, Lisa Iannacito McBride, Shannon Maynor and Jessica Sand - are variously partnered by Eric Vlach, James Hernandez and Or Sagi. At the heart of the work's third movement is a poignant duet for two men, danced with intense grace by Sean Patrick Mahoney and Blake Hennessey-York.
SUMMER HOUSE, a new work, again shows Lydia's almost spiritual connection with the music of Philip Glass (her earlier Glass creation IN CONVERSATION is deeply satisfying), Many choreographers have turned to Glass for his rhythmic vitality; Lydia looks deeper into the composer's catalog to craft SUMMER HOUSE.
Three women (Jessica Sand, Laura DiOrio and Lisa Iannacito McBride) and a lone man (Robert Robinson) recall a summer spent at a house on some lonely shore. We do not know who they are or what had drawn them to share this time together. Cross-currents of desire, despair, broken promises and secret longings pulse below the surface as each dancer expresses their recollections of this communal experience.
Are the women sisters? Strangers? Rivals? Did each in her own way seek something from the man? What transpired? Were there unspoken affections among the three? The whole mystery of the situation makes SUMMER HOUSE so tantalizing, and the three dancers - Laura, Lisa and Jessica - each move with distinctive loveliness thru the dreamy late-summer-evening light.
The enigmatic central figure of SUMMER HOUSE is Robert Robinson. Using his entire body right to his fingertips as an expressive vessel, Robert gave an incredible performance of harrowing emotional commitment wrapped in restless intensity. Shifting his weight and stretching his frame into amazing backward arcs, he used the chairs as partners in this poetic exploration of what the human body can do. Quite honestly, he made my heart pound.
Set to music of Henryk Gorecki, LAMENT develops themes of loss and grieving but is underscored by hopefulness. Spirituality illuminates the dancing which avoids heavy religiosity in favor an underlying common humanity. In the moving Amen section we observe the rites of angels who fly to the corners of the stage in a series of striking lifts.
Eric Vlach and Sean Patrick Mahoney were among the outstanding dancers in LAMENT along with Lisa Iannacito, Laura DiOrio, Jessica Sand, Kaitlin Accetta, Sarah Pon and Blake Hennessy-York. Sean Mahoney's passionate dancing was the focal point of this work and his deeply committed performance inspired his colleagues to notch the level ever higher.
By way of contrast as a finale, Lydia cooked up a honky-tonk finale entitled ZERO HOURS set to boogie-blues by Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons. To all the dancers already mentioned, Kerry Shea, Natalia Wodnicka, Devon Kelly and Justin Lynch were added in this big ensemble work which seems to take place in a honky-tonk bar late at night.
The dancers have fleeting opportunities to shine - Blake Hennessey-York took advantage of his moment in the spotlight with some very impressive moves. Laura DiOrio, Kaitlin Accetta and Lisa Iannacito McBride each had more extended solos which were beautifully danced.
So nice to see the partnership of Kerry Shea and Eric Vlach (above) in a duet of effortless sweep and charm.
In a second duo, Lisa Iannacito McBride and James Hernandez (above) were easy-going; their polished dancing had just a teasing touch of sexiness.
Sean Patrick Mahoney and Jessica Sand danced an alluring 'ships passing in the night' duet (Kokyat's rehearsal photo above); the chemistry level smouldered but in the end Jessica left Sean on his own. They reconciled in the finale which featured all the dancers in shifting patterns and ended with an ironic shimmy from Lisa Iannacito McBride.
Over the past months we've watched this programme taking shape and it turned out handsomely; so good to hear the big crowd saluting these dancers that Kokyat and I have come to admire. Lydia's work is demanding both physically and emotionally, and it must be as rewarding to dance as it is to watch.
Production photos by Brian Krontz; rehearsal image by Kokyat.