Boston Dance Theater is thinking big, with goals to forge global connections, cross cultural boundaries, and resonate with today’s sociopolitical climate. Co-directed by Boston-born dancer Jessie Jeanne Stinnett and acclaimed Israeli choreographer/dancer Itzik Galili, the new contemporary repertory company made its Boston debut Friday night and promises to be a lively, provocative addition to New England arts.
The weekend’s sold-out program, presented by World Music/CRASHarts, featured works that the program described as focusing on “the rights and contributions of women.” All eight dancers — and they were terrific — were female: Stinnett, Jojo Boykins, Olivia Coombs, Whitney Cover, Sayer Mansfield, Emily Jerant-Hendrickson, Jen Passios, and Kate Dube. But it wasn’t always clear how the four mostly abstract works fed into the program’s goals. In fact, the evening’s most successful work, an excerpt from “Man of the Hour,” was originally choreographed by Galili for eight men.
Galili’s role in the company is major cause for excitement. A former dancer with Batsheva and Bat-Dor Dance Companies, he has had artistic relationships with major dance troupes in Israel and holds a knighthood for contribution to Dutch culture. He has works in the repertory of companies all around the world, from Sao Paulo to Stuttgart to Boston.
With “Man of the Hour,” it was the first time the work was performed exclusively by women. How fabulous to see Galili’s raw and rigorous choreography explode through female physicality! Dressed in suits and huddled face front downstage, practically in the laps of the front row, the eight dancers shouted a fragmented chorus of what sounded like some guttural invented language. The work evoked a kind of primal war ritual, full of chest thumping, thigh slapping, stomping, punching, thrusting, and tongue wagging. As the music of Purcell sent the dancers spiraling outward, falls to the floor and squat lunges rebounded into vigorous turns and kicks, with outstretched legs hurdles to jump over or swinging gates to squeeze under. The sound of heavy breathing and beat boxing brought the group back into a phalanx of communal power.
Galili’s “Chameleon,” which received its Boston premiere, lined up the dancers in chairs. To a burbling, impressionistic piano score by John Cage, the women sprawled, sighed, stretched, and posed, sometimes in tight unison, other times in a rippling sequential line creating a lovely play of limbs in motion. They were graceful and ungainly in turn, legs splayed wide or pretzeled. Faces feigned wonder, surprise, boredom. Occasionally, a finger unceremoniously wiped or picked a nose. It was an engaging portrait of commonality and individuality.
I feared for the dancers in Sidra Bell’s stark and striking “Deeper Inscription.” Making its Boston premiere, the work plunged six dancers into muscular lunges, twists, and balances while wearing high, pointy-toed stilettos. But they brilliantly navigated the movement through vivid squares and corridors of light by designer Stephen Petrilli.
Shanghai native Yin Yue’s “Today for Now,” making its Boston premiere, was fueled by the deep dark blues of Janis Joplin. Dancers roiled with fluid phrases, pushing and pulling, supporting, carrying, curling under and over, coiled limbs and supple spines threatening to turn bodies inside out. Sharp gestures implied a barely contained fury. It was captivating to watch, but too long and fractured, petering out just as Joplin exhorted, “Tell me why!”
Boston Dance Theater
Presented by World Music/CRASHarts at Institute of Contemporary Art, Friday night
Karen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An earlier version mischaracterized the works by Sidra Bell and Yin Yue as US premieres.