CityDance Ensemble: Next

Some highlights from CityDance Ensemble’s mixed bill of six works by choreographers new and old:

The evening begins with a period piece, Sophie Maslow’s Folksay (1942), set on folk songs in the Woody Guthrie tradition and spoken word, in part by Carl Sandburg. The opening dance is a genial barn dance with flexed feet, punctuated by alarmingly vigorous foot stomps, the more so for the feet being unshod. Musicians Andrew Ratliff and John Ratliff perform the score on voice and guitar, and gamely execute certain passages of down home banter that would make the writers for Hee Haw blush. Still, there are some sweet passages, like the phrase, “Sometimes when I think about you, I think my heart will strip a gear.”

The evening then shifts into a darker mood, much of it costumed in black slashed with red. Han (2006/2007), scored in part by taiko drums and choreographed by company artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson, is typical of the company’s strengths: high energy, go-for-broke phrasing, themes of struggle. Jason Garcia Ignacio does well with Jason Hartley’s Nocturne Monologue (2003), a dimly-lit, muscular sketch with allusions to yoga postures as well as classic dance poses.

The evening closes with the most wide-ranging work, Christopher K. Morgan’s Ties That Bind (2002). There is a particularly lovely, languid passage in which a pair of women exchange energy almost as easily as if they’re doing a warm-up improvisation—hints of Pilobolus here. There are also human puppets, an odd solo with a parasol and veil, and a section that could be read as a particularly nasty game of Red Rover.

The standout dance, however, comes in the first half: Kate Weare’s Drop Down (2006), masterfully performed by Giselle Alvarez and Maleek Makhail Washington. Set on a score by Katie Down that sounds like sonically processed Astor Piazzolla, it’s a breathtaking power struggle of a duet. Equal parts deconstructed tango and exercise in especially violent martial arts, the opening sections are marked by a slow/snap quick rhythm. The climactic section takes place mostly on the floor, and is all the more powerful for having nothing but silence backing it up.