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Dance Review

Otherworldy but missing a spark

The dances of Mauro Astolfi, Spellbound Dance Company’s artistic director, recall a neverending loop — a kind of choreographic Mobius strip winding perpetually back to its beginnings.

That is not to say that the three works on Friday night’s Celebrity Series program, a Boston debut for this Rome-based troupe, didn’t astonish with their pyrotechnics. The nine dancers’ undulating torsos and cantilevered limbs, their roiling hips and rubber-bodied couplings make your jaw drop. But a necessary tension is missing from most of these works: they are horizontal, flat, rather than building in structural and kinesthetic intensity. The remarkable becomes humdrum when it has nowhere to go.

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Program notes announcing the “meaning” of a piece immediately arouse suspicion — and the Spellbound program spells out plenty. The 43-minute “Lost for Words: The Invasion of Empty Words” (2011) aims to depict how language misused leads to unraveling. Set to an electronic score by Scott Morgan comingled with works by H.I.F. Biber, Ben Frost, and others, the piece juxtaposes disjointed phrases (“Is this the right treatment?” “I have lost interest in music.”) with nonstop movement — for duets, trios, solos, and groups — that’s at once wary and seething. The people in this world slither and tug, hook knees around necks, and pile atop one another in shafts of light. But not until the end do the steps and gestures communicate to us that the players long to connect.

The much shorter “She Is on the Ground” (2013), to music by Gidon Kremer with the Kremerata Baltica Chamber Orchestra, hams up the power of women over men. Six women in white shirts and black pants serve three men in jackets (which they assiduously straighten) their just desserts. Ogling is met by shoves, a woman’s fall to the ground snaps observers’ heads in the other direction, would-be suitors scrabble on the ground or “swim” forward on their bellies. The piece elicits laughs, but is overdone.

“Downshifting” (2009), to music by J.S. Bach, the a cappella vocal sextet Pust, and others, has the clearest beginning, middle, and end — that is, development — of the lot. It opens with the dancers in a diagnonal line in a rectangle of light, and goes through various permutations — unison dancing, each dancer executing a singular theme, the group forming a half-circle and couples performing in the center — and then brings that diagonal back, but in a different light or configuration. The movement repeats what we have seen before, but with a sense of purpose.

Thea Singer can be reached at thea.singer@comcast.net.
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