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Jeremy Nelson’s diverting puzzles and dynamic motion

“Mean Piece”—a world premiere by Jeremy Nelson—drew ringing cheers from its audience at Dance Theater Workshop, a reaction that celebrated the hardy, fun-to-watch ensemble while also acknowledging the work’s inventiveness. Clocking in at just about 35 minutes, “Mean Piece”—like the program’s shorter opener, “Accent Elimination” (2004)—seemed to breeze by in no time at all. Nelson, whose intricately plotted dances are informed by contact improvisation, makes one believe in movement’s infinite possibilities.

“Accent Elimination”—a diverting puzzle—demonstrates the patented Nelson wit. The five dancers move like jointed dolls or cartoon characters. Their arms rotate in their sockets like helicopter blades. Hands function as hooks or stoppers as each dancer encounters other, jet-propelled bodies. One dancer’s torso acts as an efficient fulcrum for another dancer’s smooth moves. Feet take a back seat as knees, elbows, ankles—even a bellybutton here and there—aggressively drive the action. Nelson plays easily with DTW’s space, creating nearly nonstop motion and clever rearrangements of the five dancers as subtle, unpredictable shifts work their way through David Watson’s score and David Tirosh’s lighting. The set by Nelson and Luis Lara Malvacías features a giant scarlet red quill and series of typographic symbols printed across the backdrop—jaunty hieroglyphics for a new age.

“Mean Piece,” set to the hypnotic machinery of Pavel Zuštiak’s music, opens with dancers running a curved path, backpedaling, stomping lightly, and then darting around one another as if on a basketball court. They jump and tumble, splash and spill across the floor. They tussle with one another, chase and stare each other down in a way that’s quietly amusing rather than threatening. A threesome of dancers locks arms, causing upheaval when one or another wants to escape the pack. Perhaps only a martial artist would, like Nelson, think of slapping a rival down with a foot instead of a hand.

I love the sweeping, dynamic motion of this piece, and its warm, lightly dramatic undercurrent of humor. I miss seeing Nelson dance in his works but greatly enjoy the facility of his strong, durable team—“Accent Elimination’s” Meredith McCanse, Omagbitse Omagbemi, Gretchen Pallo, Rebecca Serrell, Francis A. Stansky, and Lawrence Casella—who joins them for “Mean Piece.”

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Updated 5:17 pm, July 20, 2018
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