Theater & dance

Dance Review

The deadpan delights of Elephant Jane

Choreographer Heidi Henderson (center) with Elephant Jane dancers Karl Rogers and Christina Jane Robson.
Choreographer Heidi Henderson (center) with Elephant Jane dancers Karl Rogers and Christina Jane Robson.

CAMBRIDGE — Choreographer Heidi Henderson maintains, “In my dances the neatness of minimalist art meets the messiness of life.” Yeah, what she said.

The works in Sunday night’s concert by Henderson’s company Elephant Jane Dance were, in fact, rather minimal and a little messy, but in the most intriguing ways — movements and phrases of total unpredictability, endings that somehow left us still in the middle, and perhaps most delightfully confounding, an almost complete deadpan emotional affect from every dancer in every piece. The few discreet, nuanced cracks in the armor were that much more striking. And in many of the works, the lack of any sentimentality heightened moments of wry humor, often because the movement was so dramatically in contrast to the music.

Henderson’s solo, “It wasn’t me who changed.” is a case in point. As Rosemary Clooney croons, “Hey there, you with the stars in your eyes,” Henderson strikes a businesslike, almost confrontational pose, arms raised in a V. Solemnly, she swivels her hips ever so slightly before lunging into skips, skitters, slow bouncy walks, and awkward galumphs, occasionally swishing her arms, as if sweeping love tidily out the door.

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She opens the 2010 “Pine” with a slow-motion solo of off-kilter balances and convoluted posturing, eyes downcast in sober introspection, all while Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” cranks out, “Here we are now, entertain us.” But the effect here is less humorous than provocative, especially when Edward Rice and Christina Jane Robson enter, bursting through her constrained energy into luxurious turns, lunges, and falls that careen through space, arms and legs slicing. To an elegiac version of “Oo Baby I Love Your Way,” Henderson seems to blossom just as the couple wilts, coming together in seemingly mutual need. Slowing turning in place, they repeatedly, carefully take turns lifting one another just inches off the ground.

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Rice and Sara Gibbons gave a spot-on performance of “Imagine us in silver.” An exploration of repetition, the work is set to David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” played three times. The mostly unison movement initially unfolds from stillness with meticulous care and slow — very slow — deliberation, adding energy and slightly more expansive movement with each iteration of the song. By the end, they’ve lost some composure, as runs, leaps, and spiral turns spill to the floor.

Elephant Jane Dance

At the Dance Complex, Cambridge, Sunday

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