Sydney Skybetter is the man who created HALCYON, one of the most enduringly memorable danceworks of the 21st century to date. In May 2011, the associates appeared in an ideally-structured programme of Skybetter's work at Joyce SoHo. This evening I was counting on Sky to maintain or surpass the level of that excellent presentation, and that's just what he did. Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer who's never let me down.
FOR WANT OF SLEEP seemed to me to be a danced symphony in five movements. The individual works bear the trademark Skybetter stylistic motifs with the rhythmic and textural variety of the music providing contrasts while seemingly meant to be heard in succcession. Sacred music of Gregory Spears and Arvo Part, luminous midnight-sun folk-tinged miniatures by Johann Johannsson and a contemporary score from Sxip Shirey seem woven together with an inevitability that sustains the dancing and keeps the viewer/listener keenly attuned to the experience.
The dancers begin The Laws of Falling Bodies in silhouette (Kate Ashton's lighting is a major factor in the programme's success). Five dancers - the women in elegant Grecian-feel grey frocks - develop the ever-shifting patterns of lifts, falls and chainlike structures with engrossing fluidity of movement. In addition to his core quartet of incredible dance artists - Kristen Arnold, Jennifer Jones, Kile Hotchkiss and Jordan Isadore - Skybetter has added the very appealing Barbi Powers. I watched this opening work with the reassuring feeling that Skybetter is one of a handful of current choreographers with whom I can truly connect. Music (from Gregory Spears' REQUIEM) and dancing spoke to me with a poetic clarity that was sustained throughout the evening.
Near Abroad (to Arvo Part's In Pacem Domine) was created in 2008 as a male-female duet; it is now danced by two men of contrasting beauty: blonde Kile Hotchkiss and the dark-haired Jordan Isadore. The duet seems at once passionate and non-sexual, though longing and desire percolate just below the surface. The dancers express tenderness and mutual support without a truly romantic context; at one point they seem liklely to kiss...but they don't. This duet, so expressively danced by Kile and Jordan, drew the evening's most sustained applause.
Temporary Matters might be seen as the scherzo of this symphony; it contains some of the programme's most animated dance moves, but also moments of stillness. This quartet has grown on me since I first saw it in a rehearsal during its formative stages: the more you watch it, the more there is to see.
Skybetter's two resident beauties, Kristen Arnold and Jennifer Jones, were wonderfully evocative in For Want of Sleep. Sxip Shirey's score was being premiered as a setting for this duet with its images of sisterhood and motherhood, gentle rocking motifs and unspoken bonds.
All five dancers appear in black-skirted costumes (by Karen Young) for the concluding Little Boy. Originally created on a larger ensemble (the Second Avenue Dance Company) to a shining score by Johann Johannsson, the work has been effectively re-crafted as a quintet. The dancers - here and all evening - put a personal stamp on Skybetter's choreography. It is wonderful to focus on them as individuals; enhanced by the costuming and lighting they make the choregrapher's work resonate deeply thru their individual beauty and intensity.
There will be six more performances of this Skybetter programme at Joyce SoHo: click here for dates, times and ticket information. Tautly presented without intermission, FOR WANT OF SLEEP gets five stars for its cogent blend of music, movement, production and dancing. This, in fact, is what dance is all about.
Special thanks to the Company for forwarding Christopher Duggan's beautiful images: Kristen Arnold and Jennifer Jones, above.