The long-lived troupe's first mainstage show under new artistic director Greer Reed-Jones was a qualified success.
Alloy Unlocked continues with shows at 2 p.m. Sun., Dec. 6, and 8 p.m. Mon., Dec. 7, at the New Hazlett Theater. (Full disclosure: The Alloy's still photographer, Renee Rosensteel, is my spouse.)
The show opens with two works from the group's repertory: choreographer Susan Marshall's "Arms" and Donald Byrd's "White Man Sleep." The former is an intense duet requiring precise timing, performed here by Christopher Bandy and Maribeth Maxa. The latter -- a trenchant take on different people's responses to 9-11 -- is composed of a pair of linked solos, as performed by Michael Walsh and Stephanie Dumaine. Both "Arms" and "White Man" were sharply rendered. (Adrienne Misko will dance the woman's part in "White Man" Dec. 6 and 7.)
"White Man," which the Alloy premiered in 2002, was among the works brought in by the Alloy's former artistic and managing director, Beth Corning. As the Alloy embarks on a new direction that Jones says will focus more on involving the larger community, it was good to see the group embracing that recent past.
Meanwhile, the evening's two longer works represented breaks with Corning's critically acclaimed six-year tenure. Where Corning's guest choreographers were usually internationally known names, like Byrd, Unlocked featured work by locals Pearlann Porter (of The Pillow Project) and Gwen Hunter Ritchie (of LABCO). Second, and with varying degrees of success, both longer works featured video projections -- common enough in dance these days, but the sort of multimedia approach Corning explicitly eschewed.
Porter's "Itch of the Key," which concluded the evening's first act, was cleverly staged, incorporating her own projection design. The dream-like narrative (set to music by Phillip Glass with the Kronos Quartet) was a kind of creepy Edwardian romance. The video started with a full moon and moved on to depict, all in silhouette form, a spooky forest, a crepuscular ballroom and, finally, the heroine's bedroom. Most of the sequences features long columns of shadow, running downstage to upstage, that the dancers disappeared into and popped out of.
Danced by the company, "Itch" was pretty, and Porter's play with light and shadow was frequently engaging, as when Misko (as the heroine) "peeked around" the "corner" of a shadow, or when a small spotlight focused on her hands. But the piece felt slow to develop. Moreover, too often the stage was so dark that I couldn't see what I'd come to see -- dancers dancing.
Of course it was Porter's intent to keep some things visible and some in shadow, but too often the selection seemed haphazard: If I'm seeing the upper bodies of whirling dancers, I want to see their legs, too.
The evening's second act featured Ritchie's "Look Me in the Eyes," a take on compulsive behavior that began with all five dancers apart, each focused solipsistically on the sounds to be made with the plastic grocery bag each one held.
A subsequent series of duets featured one dancer as the practioner of such behavior (sometimes suggesting a child with autism, say) and the other as a caregiver, possibly a parent. Highlights included a stunning duet featuring Maxa and Dumaine, and an impressive solo by Walsh.
The trouble with the piece was the large-scale projected video that formed the work's backdrop for most of its running time. The first video sequence, for instance, featured the dancers in close-up, in what appeared to be rehearsals for this same work.
This was wildly distracting. At question isn't the quality of the video itself (created by Staycee Pearl, herself a dancer), or what role it might play conceptually in the work. It's one of simple cognition. I have fairly normal cognitive abilities, and there's no way I could pay attention to skilled dancers busting their humps; a sophisticated soundtrack (by Andy Hasenpflug); and gigantic, fast-moving color video right behind them. But there was also no way not to at least occasionally look at this video. And that felt, if nothing else, unfair to the live performers.
Incorporating video into live performance is quite difficult: While later video sequences in "Eyes" were more abstract and hence less distracting, it still wasn't possible to look at both video and dancers.
In all, though, "Eyes" is a powerful piece and contribute to a solid season-opener in this 35-year-old company's latest chapter.