In 1991, Gina Gibney founded her Gibney Company in New York as “a dance and social justice organization.” The small troupe began by doing Gibney’s own choreography, but over the past 30 years it has expanded its outreach programs and begun to commission works from outside choreographers. Gibney made its Joyce Theater debut in November 2021 and was featured in the opening program of New York City Center’s Fall for Dance in September 2022. Now the company is in the midst of its first national tour, and Global Arts Live brought it to the Institute of Contemporary Art this weekend. The three intriguing Boston premieres Gibney is presenting center on the theme of what separates us and what brings us together.
Swedish choreographer Johan Inger is a former Nederlands Dans Theater member and Cullberg Ballet artistic director. At the ICA’s Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, his 27-minute “Bliss” (2016) is performed with the view of Boston Harbor behind the dancers, giving the piece an out-on-the-town feel. Kevin Pajarillaga and Jake Tribus start it in identical pink shirts and denim-colored trousers and unison movement. Then the music begins, part one of Keith Jarrett’s legendary 1975 “Köln Concert,” where he improvised for just over an hour. The dancing has an agitated, improvisational quality. There’s a brief solo for Eddieomar Gonzalez-Castillo, a duet for Jie-Hung Connie Shiau and Jacob Thoman, another solo for Miriam Gittens, then a quartet.
Nothing settles; small groups form and re-form. There’s a moment of bliss when the lighting dims to club level and all eight dancers jive as one. Gittens and Pajarillaga engage in a slow duet; then it’s back to brief encounters. Upstage, Pajarillaga starts prancing, a back-and-forth kicking shuffle, as if he were working out. By now all 13 dancers are on stage, and Inger creates an eye-catching counterpoint in which various groups posit a movement they can all do together. The prancing step wins out, but it doesn’t last. Everyone breaks, circles, runs off — everyone but Pajarillaga, who’s still at it till he notices the music has stopped and he’s alone.
Yue Yin is the director of New York’s YY Dance Company, which she founded in 2018. In 2021, Boston Ballet commissioned her “A Common Movement,” a fun ensemble work that the company danced on Boston Common and in the Public Garden and presented as part of its fall 2021 virtual “reSTART” program.
“A Measurable Existence” (2022) is set to an original score by Dutch composer Rutger Zuydervelt (a.k.a. Machinefabriek). With the theater’s shades now on, Pajarillaga and Thoman enter from opposite sides. The music suggests thunder, rain, artillery fire; the men dance in a kind of martial unison. Over the next 18 minutes, separation alternates with support; they tumble over each other, wrestle, intertwine, return to martial unison. They’re sheathed in red light as they fight their individual demons; Thoman momentarily takes refuge in the upstage shadows. They catch and lift each other at unexpected moments, unable to stay together, unable to let go. As the score thins out, they walk past each other, turn and repeat. Pajarillaga disappears in those upstage shadows; Thoman turns to see him gone, and is left wondering.
Sharon Eyal, a former Batsheva Dance Company member, teamed with musician Gai Behar to create “SARA” for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in 2013. It makes for an enigmatic closer. Six dimly lit dancers, all in black, form a group stage right; Gittens is on her own stage left. At the back of the group, Graham Feeny stands with arms outstretched and the other five dancers react like marionettes. At other times the group looks like an organism whose parts are not totally coordinated. Gittens lip-synchs to the score, the Knife’s “From Off to On” and Ori Lichtik’s “Saratan.” Tribus breaks out into a sinuous solo; Pajarillaga heads for Gittens but never quite reaches her. The light grows dimmer. The group, now six again, shuffles forward and back with minimal footwork; Gittens remains alone. As always, the one and the many.
“Bliss,” by Johan Inger. “A Measurable Existence,” by Yue Yin. “SARA,” by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. Presented by Global Arts Live. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, March 17.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.