Stories enter our consciousness through various pathways—heard, read, or seen enacted on stage or screen. In dance, where the living body rules, stories are especially hard to resist because our own bodies resonate with the dancers we observe. Two choreographers premiering ensemble works at Dance Theater Workshop employed story and character to varying extent, intensity, and effect.
“Gone Missing,” performed by Ivy Baldwin Dance, whisked us off to a forest clearing where fresh-fallen snow and silhouetted evergreens softened the impact of troubling developments among a group of Russian peasants. Kate Weare set her “Wet Road” in a dark, unspecified locale; its tango-inspired relationships and vignettes could exist anywhere that couples form erotic bonds.
Of the two, Baldwin used character and narrative more overtly and with the outlandish verve, color, and underlying nastiness of a classic fairy tale. “Gone Missing” traded in simple movement and visual pleasure. In the dark, the wind whistled twice before lights came up on dancers paddling a pretend canoe—the crouched, slowly rocking bodies of two colleagues—on a pretend river. The barefoot, simply-dressed traveler—Natalya (Baldwin), Paulina (Jennifer Uzzi), Ivan (Lawrence Cassella), Madame O (Mindy Nelson), and Sascha (Katy Pyle)—reached their destination and seemed to have little to do but play—watch freezing air turn their breaths to mist, catch snowflakes on their tongues, and sing ear-pleasing folk song rounds.
But all was not well. A grim, impassive hopping broke out and spread like an infection through the group. Rather than making angel in the snow, one peasant, apparently having a seizure, made something demonic until she was soothed within a friend’s arms.
Poor Sascha, with her long, red braids, was the first victim to mysteriously disappear and end up encased in ice. Later, a couple, trapped in ice, stood in frozen embrace until cut loose and wrenched apart by an interloper who inserted herself between them, breathed warm air on the man, and snared him for herself.
Although several dancers did make angels—displacing the fake flakes—they also ended up in the ice and had to be cut free. The bare hand and voice of their liberator amusingly provided sawing motions and sound. Through the use of disarming, childlike devices such as these, Baldwin simulated the experience of being read a bedtime story, one that, like life itself, can leave us with loose ends and messy unknowns.
In “Wet Road,” Weare stripped story and character down to some basics—man, woman, lust, and power. This piece, entangling tango and postmodernism, set the bar higher for duet choreography with Weare, Adrian Clark, Leslie Kraus, Jason Dietz Marchant, and Lindsey Dietz Marchant laying down exacting, exquisite performances that hold back neither body nor soul. Sometimes, hooking their legs and torsos around their partners’ ankles and calves, the women became like swamps through which the men attempted to move. You could almost hear murky water slosh—or quicksand drag at its captives’ limbs.
Although the intricate turns and entwinements of the dancers’ legs surely invoked tango’s traditions, Weare spun those moves into far reaches of the imagination where fiery women contended as equals with their men, or either sex could treat the other as an object to be coldly manipulated. Joe Levasseur, who also designed the lighting for “Gone Missing,” lit Weare’s work at just the right pitch, creating tight, narrow places that were starkly marginal and heightened in theatricality, places where dancers took to the wet road with no concern for danger.