The title may be a mouthful, but the dancing Friday at the Institute of Contemporary Art was as satisfying as it was diverse. “New England Now Dance Platform” is the culmination of New England Foundation for the Arts’ year-long Regional Dance Development Initiative: New England Now, whose goals include “equity, inclusion, and care for dance across the region.” The fruit of that initiative is this weekend’s three programs showcasing 18 New England artists, under the auspices of NEFA, the ICA, and Global Arts Live.
First up Friday was Ian Berg. Last month, Global Arts Live presented his tap company, Subject:Matter, in Somerville’s Crystal Ballroom. This time out he was joined by Subject:Matter members April Nieves and Benae Beamon in “Expensive Nail Polish Dries Fast,” which they’d done at the ICA as part of Global Arts Live’s 2017 “Dance UP.” The trio entered in red dinner jackets and black bow ties, doffed the jackets, and wove in and out on a square of wood flooring as they tapped to snippets of songs like “Goin’ to the Chapel” and “I Hear the Train a Comin’.” It was all goofy fun, with Berg jumping into the women’s arms and getting dumped to the floor whenever “Wild Thing” surfaced. For the finale, they donned the jackets and shuffled to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sunny Side of the Street.”
Lauren Horn’s “Brown Stew Fish Story” combined storytelling and dancing. The story was that of “a man who took a water woman as his bride”; he grows prosperous as a result, but when he starts to mistreat her, she goes back to the sea and he’s left with nothing. Barefoot and in an orange-yellow shift, Horn narrated this tale with exemplary clarity, even as she whirled and kicked and executed barrel turns. Her arm movements helped to tell the story in a fascinating way that wasn’t altogether literal; calypso music suggested the work’s Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Toby MacNutt stayed in Vermont because of COVID concerns, but the nonbinary, disabled artist was well represented through video with “In This Time Dilation.” We saw MacNutt coiled on the floor of a large living area, next to a high stool, then climbing up onto the stool, rocking head into hands, pulling a leg up, rising with the upper body, flexing feet, lifting off the stool, all to an ambient soundtrack. The sequence was reversed in fast motion till MacNutt was back on the floor; then a second performer, Nicole Dagesse, appeared in a sling suspended just above and the two embraced. The editing, with its dissolves and disruptions, was sophisticated; MacNutt’s slow dance was riveting.
The title of Aretha Aoki’s “IzumonookunI” refers to the female founder of Japan’s kabuki theater. Dressed in a glittery robe, Aoki sang powerfully at a stand-up mic to the equally powerful backbeat of musician Ryan MacDonald before embarking on a sequence of stylized movement that included crawling, backward walking, and angry faces. MacDonald’s bush-like headpiece was a puzzle, as was the little girl in pink at his feet. Aoki describes “IzumonookunI” as a “sci-fi-punk-futuristic mixed media dance piece” celebrating “the women who have been erased in Aretha Aoki’s family due to the patriline,” but this excerpt of an ambitious work-in-progress needed more context.
Sarah Duclos’s “Ambistellar” was also a work-in-progress. Its title was drawn from a Sojoy + Stu Dias album, and the two subtitles — “Ursa Minor: We Can Watch the Universe Unravel” and “Grus: The Last Winter” — were the names of the songs Duclos and a quartet danced to. The movement was graceful, gentle, and communal, and the second section incorporated a billowing translucent sheet that suggested the Milky Way, but neither the song lyrics nor the vague storyline was as stellar as those titles.
Scott McPheeters’s “Here Like Home” closed the evening with 13 members of the RDDI New England Now Artist Cohort dancing onstage and, in voiceover, explaining how New England is where they belong, to an ocean-wave soundtrack. Everybody looked to be improvising, mostly soloing, joining up with this friend or that, doing their own thing but as part of a community. Home indeed.
New England Now Dance Platform
Presented by New England Foundation for the Arts, Global Arts Live, and the Institute of Contemporary Art. At Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Friday March 18. Remaining performances: March 19–20. Tickets $10-$25. 617-876-4275, www.globalartslive.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.