In speaking about an early piece of his choreography for Netherlands Dance Theatre, Paul Lightfoot, now a resident choreographer and Artistic Director of that company called that work “a right good stinker”. You could admire the self-deprecating attitude and honesty of someone who could acknowledge that even at a powerhouse like NDT, company sponsored choreographic efforts could go off the rails. Something like that happened at the Broad Stage on Thursday night with BODYTRAFFIC’s opening night of their latest repertory evening of mostly new works. Somehow, a company that has in the past has danced purposefully to Schoenberg, movingly assayed complex cultural odysseys using ethnic music, and collaborated with a brilliant “genius” choreographer (I’m thinking here of Kyle Abraham’s 2013 work, Kollide for the company on this same stage) disappeared down a rabbit hole with a program that offered little cohesion while at the same time being filled with artistic pretense.
The disappointments started early with Richard Siegal’s anodyne, jazz-inflected suite for four dancers set to Gershwin’s Preludes. With only three pieces to tell his story, 3 Preludes was over before it got a chance to get rolling. And with an overly amplified on stage piano, the sound poured out of the above stage speakers leaving the actual sound of the piano (played in expressive good style by Inna Faliks) nearly inaudible. But the real missed opportunity was that the dancers never made any kind of emotional contact with their onstage accompanist, navigating around her as if she were mere set decor. The three men, Joseph Kudra, Matthew Rich, and Guzmán Rosado made a good team (they might remind you of Robbins’ sailors for Fancy Free) while Tina Finkelman Berkett summoned only a wan play for her role as the threesome’s love interest. She seemed to wander through 3 Preludes rather than dance it.
Both the evening’s premiering big works, Private Games (Anton Lachky) and Death Defying Dances (Arthur Pita) were overloaded with ill-used old tropes—a prop strewn stage, speaking and lip syncing parts for dancers, theatrical disruptions– for theater and contemporary dance. The later set to the music of 60’s era coffee house singer, Judy Henske, felt more like a hardcore, urban review than concert dance. Little more than an accompaniment to Henske’s live recording (except for a brief focal section designed around a murder ballad theme) Lachky’s sketch-like suite of interludes never reached beyond a campy gloss on the music. Designed as a dystopic vision of love (the block letters on the stage spelled out “Love Stinks”) the piece’s sledgehammer symbolism gave away the game leaving us little to figure out for ourselves. Death Defying Dances made you yearn for the subtle, engaging works of dancemakers like Smuin (Dances with Songs), Taylor (Company B), and Forsythe (Love Songs) , who took songs personal to them from the American song book, and made us love the music and the dancing that went with them, even more.
Private Games (the program says it’s a preview with more to come) gave us furious dancing to an eclectic collage of music including Haydn, Bach, and stand-alone percusion. Part theater dance and part ritual social commentary, the work’s biggest stumbling block was an embarrassingly conceived central character who mocked himself and was mocked by his fellow-dancers for his geeky, physical afflictions from the beginning of the piece to the end. Not cool. It borrowed a lot from the kind of audience confrontation and goofiness in the mold of Naharin and the Euro Zone, but offered little more than a facile copy and no real message. BODYTRAFFIC’s game dancers did what they could with a program that this time around, undershot their previous accomplished performances by a wide margin.
(Performances continue at the Broad Stage through October 29)