Dance Reviews: Unassuming Opulence

Backstage, April 2008

by Lisa Jo Sagolla

Great riches can be found in small, modestly wrapped packages tucked away in the unexplored nooks and crannies of the dance world. It was a sturdy little dance troupe from the American heartland -- the 50-year-old Kansas City Ballet -- that offered the most choreographically adventurous and aesthetically diverse evening at the ballet in New York this season. In a plain studio setting, with no theatrical lighting and the audience seated on metal folding chairs, Miro Magloire presented a remarkably sophisticated program of serious choreography set to challenging experimental music. And Lydia Johnson Dance, a wee company based in South Orange, N.J., performed a show of Johnson's works that demonstrated perhaps the most organic choreographic fusion of ballet and modern-dance techniques ever invented.

Mixing the weighty floor work and freewheeling torso actions of modern dance with the angular leg positions and ornamental port de bras of ballet, Lydia Johnson has created a tasty cocktail of dance vocabulary that looks markedly original and feels very naturally blended. Her nine-year-old chamber company, Lydia Johnson Dance, presented a scrumptious evening of Johnson's work at the Ailey Citigroup Theatre (April 4-6), dancing to a delightfully eclectic mixture of well-chosen music, including scores by Philip Glass and Henryk Gorecki, country blues tunes, and jazzy Dean Martin recordings.

A quartet of women in partnership with four folding chairs created ravishing tableaux of crystalline linearity in "Falling Out," forming a striking, static frame for the actions of an anguished soloist and an agitated couple. In "Collecting Rain," Johnson added a heavier-than-usual dose of expressiveness to her visually stunning choreographic language. Four couples do lots of heartfelt rolling on the floor, with the women in sexy negligees and the men in casual street clothes -- that costuming cliché that has come to represent a hot romantic relationship. The choreography, however, rises far above the hackneyed as it captures the spirit of the "crying in your beer" country-flavored musical accompaniment.

While Johnson cunningly conveys the tensions and toys with the complex rhythmic statements contained in its Gorecki score, "Lament," a studied ensemble work, fails to elicit any lasting memories. Its fluid images pass pleasingly by the eye, yet by the end of the piece one remembers little of what one has seen. But "Dream Sequence" offers a lasting payoff, as Johnson makes the bold decision to match her heady concert-dance movement style to the song stylings of Dean Martin. A collection of entertaining duets -- particularly those performed by Kerry Shea and Tucker Ty Davis -- and stylish group dances, the work sparkles with a postmodern playfulness. After a technically dazzling solo by R. Colby Damon, Johnson thumbs her nose at notions of aesthetic cohesion by sending a line of dancers snaking across the stage in Ziegfeld Follies fashion while flapping their arms in a manner that could just as easily have come from the second act of Swan Lake.

©2008 Backstage