With its new “DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!” the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston celebrates the diversity of area dance by showcasing four distinctly different companies. The idea, developed with Ruth Birnberg, is terrific — could this be the start of something new?
Though Friday evening’s concert was overly long and not quite as exciting as the exclamatory title suggested, performances were excellent, and the evening highlighted four troupes that come from diverse traditions yet share common threads of influence.
Wendy Jehlen and Lacina Coulibaly offered excerpts from the evening-length “Entangling,” which is gracefully infused with elements of African and Indian dance, as well as contact improvisation and capoeira. A little choppy as a whole, it might have been more satisfying to see fewer segments with a sense of completeness and integrity. However, it was riveting nonetheless. Jehlen and Coulibaly fluidly connected and disconnected through lifts, turns, and tumbles with eloquent articulation and a softly luxurious sense of weight.
Inspired by a female TaÍno chief who ruled Hispanola during Christopher Columbus’s invasion, Jean Appolon Expressions’s “Anacaona” implied an underlying narrative, as a voiceover intoned, “Once upon a time I dreamed of telling a story.” But despite the dancers’ committed performances of mostly Haitian folkloric vocabulary and vivid costumes (including fanciful headdresses, face paint, and lots of glitter), the work’s two sections didn’t develop into a particularly compelling journey.
Excerpts from Navarasa Dance Theater’s “Courtesans’ Conversation” was the evening’s charmer. Aparna Sindhoor, with the acrobatic Anil Natyaveda as her foil, performed a kind of Indian dance monologue inspired by Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.
Though it could have used a little directorial editing, this was a funny, touching, and provocative examination of female desire and our culture’s often prurient view of the human body. She recounts being told as a child, “If you want to be a dancer, you can’t be afraid of your body.” She comes to embody the philosophy, viewing dance as “sensuality and spirituality in one.”
Set to a colorful score by Gavin Bryars, “Hey!” by Daniel McCusker Dance Projects, unfolded like a strange little game to which we weren’t told the rules. Dancers Alison Ball, Leah Bergmann, Crissy Liu, and Wanda Strukus, all of whom contributed to McCusker’s choreography, walked matter of factly, ran, dove to the ground, and stopped still with an air of utmost concentration. Semaphoric gestures alluded to snippets of meaning. Brief encounters with each other were injected with an undercurrent of tenderness and an occasional hint of whimsy. It was like an intriguing movement puzzle I never quite solved — a bit slow and tedious at times, but gratifying when it came together in moments of human connection.
DANCE! DANCE! DANCE! DANCE!
Institute of Contemporary Art/BostonFriday night
Karen Campbell can be reached at email@example.com.