Dance and Cultural Conventions, Ripe for Upending

Dance and Cultural Conventions, Ripe for Upending

The work’s many elements busily war for attention at times, though fracturing our focus may be a deliberate move. Jason Finkelman’s eclectic soundscape and Susan Becker’s costumes, which morph in the final scene from pants into gauzy skirts, heighten the sense of an environment in continuous flux. Words, spoken and projected, evoke the difficulty of having to explain oneself or justify one’s actions. Phrases like “see, wait” and “it’s complicated” and “don’t misunderstand me” recur in various guises.

“If I use a little force, it doesn’t mean I’m angry,” Duane Cyrus says, discussing his fluency in “many different languages, all of them English.” The frequently loping and strutting Niall Noel Jones, who often peels off from the others and lingers onstage after their final exit, is the only performer who doesn’t speak, as if freed from the weight of explanation, or perhaps troubled by a different burden.

Photo

Jeremy Smith and Josie G. Sadan of ODC/Dance with the cellist Zoë Keating in “boulders and bones.”

Credit
Andrea Mohin/The New York Times

Nearby at the BAM Harvey Theater on Thursday, ODC/Dance, the 46-year-old modern dance company from San Francisco, was upending gender conventions in a different way — through the full-throttle partnering for which the group is known.

The sleekly produced “boulders and bones,” choreographed by the artistic directors Brenda Way and KT Nelson in 2014, was inspired by the construction of “Culvert Cairn,” a stone installation by the British land artist Andy Goldsworthy in the woods of Marin County, Calif. The hourlong work, for 10 superbly strong and resilient dancers, opens with a wordless version of RJ Muna’s time-lapse video documenting the creation of the elegant structure, a sort of stone tunnel housing a large, egg-shaped stone mass, over which rainwater can flow.

At its most compelling, “boulders and bones” captures the textures and energies of crumbling rock or cascading water, and not through high-definition projections (of which there are plenty) or the white dust that the dancers fling onto the stage, but through the dancing itself. Propelled by a lush, layered cello score composed and played live by Zoë Keating, who sits prominently atop a portable platform, the dancers slide deftly through swooping phrases on the floor or fly ardently into one another’s arms. More than once, Natasha Adorlee Johnson plows into a row of her peers, corralling them with her torso.

In work so dependent on partnering and ballet technique, it’s heartening that the women show just as much brute strength and daring as the men. The alert Josie G. Sadan, a kind of exalted figure, dances with a more ethereal remove, until an exacting solo in silence at the end, where she gathers energy like a brewing storm.

Yet “boulders,” with its outpouring of highly technical movement, sometimes loses its grasp on a larger sense of purpose, detached from the essence of the landscape it seems intent on embodying. Nature is more spontaneous and more unruly.

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