Theater & art

Dance Review

Collaborative spirit showcased in McCusker’s dances

From left: Crissy Liu, Wanda Strukus, Alison Ball, and Leah Bergmann rehearse Daniel McCusker’s “Hey!” at the Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville.
Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe
From left: Crissy Liu, Wanda Strukus, Alison Ball, and Leah Bergmann rehearse Daniel McCusker’s “Hey!” at the Center for Arts at the Armory in Somerville.

Somerville — Choreographer Daniel McCusker doesn’t just set abstract moves on bodies. He forges relationships with his performers, some of whom he’s known for many years, and crafts dances that tap into individual strengths and personalities. He includes his dancers in the process of generating and organizing movement, and he’s not afraid to showcase older dancers who may not be at their peak of technical virtuosity but can bring a wealth of experience and meaning to even the simplest of gestures.

In Thursday night’s concert, “‘Hey!’ + Other Dances,” at Somerville’s Center for Arts at the Armory, that aesthetic was beautifully showcased in a work featuring many of his treasured veteran collaborators: Alison Ball, Janet Blackman, Renée Caso, Dianna Daly, Kelli Edwards, Joelle Garfi, Irene Lutts, Cheri Opperman, and Sandra Zarotney, gorgeous movers all. Set to a series of piano miniatures by Erik Satie, McCusker’s choreography first unleashes the dancers in elegant promenades, with crisscrossing lines traversing the stage. They slide and lunge, dip and turn, arms in curved port de bras or fully open, faces and torsos lifted. Occasionally they fall into unison phrases, but mostly they create their own distinct paths.

The brief dances that follow are almost like vignettes — some solos, some duets, a fabulous little tango-like trio of fluid gestural interplay, arms in serpentine connections as poses dissolve and one dancer takes the place of another. Throughout, the dancers come together and drift apart with graceful intentionality — hands that pull and support or set rippling phrases into motion, gentle transfers of weight, playful jumps and lifts. And often a wisp of a smile plays across the women’s lips, as if acknowledging the pure pleasure of dancing together. The work’s title is simply the first names of all the dancers, and it’s a lovely tribute to their vibrance as performers. As McCusker states on the program, “Without these particular dancers, these particular dances would not exist in the particular ways that you are seeing them this evening.”

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The evening opened with “Hey!,” a quartet set to music by Gavin Bryars. For the most part, Ball, Leah Bergmann, Crissy Liu, and Wanda Strukus move in their own trajectories with sweeping, long-lined slides and stretches. Arms slice and arc with broad, semaphoric gestures or punctuate phrases with smaller isolations. Hands flex, fingers flutter and point suggestively. But in fleeting moments, the dancers connect. A hand rests on a shoulder, an arm encircles a waist, a lean turns into the gentlest transfer of weight, all without a trace of sentimentality. Toward the end, there is a lovely moment in which the dancers’ moves unspool into a series of chains and circles, gradually coalescing in a single line.

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“Little Situations,” featuring a stunning septet of McCusker’s students from Boston Conservatory, is the evening’s most abstract piece. Accompanied only by the sounds of their breathing and the slides and thumps of bare feet, these talented dancers breathe life into vivid sculptural shapes with entwined limbs, sensuous curves and coils, and luxurious shifts of weight through stretches and tumbles that send them swirling to the floor and bounding into the air.

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Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.