At Jacob's Pillow: L-E-V / Dorrance Dance a performance from the heart


BECKET -- Dance, a university professor of the art once advised us, should be trim and concise -- "Our intentions as choreographers are not to trap people in a hall endlessly with our messages," she asserted.

And this admonition increasingly seems the case, exemplified by the two companies performing this week at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. In making its U.S. debut in the Ted Shawn Theatre, L-E-V, one of Israel's newest troupes, tenders its premiere in a brief 54 minutes, while Dorrance Dance, at the Doris Duke, offers its shiny new wares in 55 uninterrupted minutes.

Sharon Eyal's choreography appears to be an acquired taste, like Scotch or rutabagas. Her dances, "Love" and "Killer Pig," presented two years ago at the Pillow by the Norwegian company Carte Blanche, seemed too elusive and distant to appreciate.

And now Eyal, for more than a decade a house choreographer for the Batsheva Company, and her co-artistic director, Gai Behar, have their own company. L-E-V, translated as "heart" from Hebrew, is but two years old, with more than half its nine well-drilled dancers, including Eyal, drawn from Batsheva.

"House," the introductory work for L-E-V, takes its title somewhat literally in its first of three parts, with Eyal in a tight-fitting black outfit introducing the piece as the presumed matron of a resident family, with assertive shuffles and jerks. She is followed by the other eight dancers -- four men, four women -- slipping in from a misty background to exchange ideas and explore relationships, with plenty of hand and arm gestures, both benign and abrupt, while Ori Lichtik's sound score, being mixed live just off stage, pulsates with heavy percussion.

The unseen Lichtik, the company composer, is a significant star of the show; his score reflects, and often seems to lead, much of the proceedings. Equally important is L-E-V's lighting designer Avi Yona Bueno, known as "Bambi," whose adroitly devised illuminations help move along the subjects dramatically and pave the way for seamless costume changes.

The initial white unitards, a trademark in Eyal's dances, gradually are replaced by black outfits for the middle portion of "House," which is rather an extension of part one, with some of Eyal's weirdness larded in, including pink girdles on the remaining unitards and one of the male dancers in spike heels, towering over the others.

"House" generally is joyless and severe, but much of its dancing is splendid, epitomized by gravity-defying back bends for the women and fierce kicks and leaps from the men.

Eyal's final section, introduced by disco music, offers a kind of silvery chorus line of glowering dancers in a rave atmosphere, reflecting Behar's earlier concert pursuits. Two male dancers, seemingly uncertain of their relationship's parameters, conclude Eyal's ruminations.

"House," finally, makes little more sense than either "Love" or "Killer Pig," but the dancing itself merited the de rigueur standing ovation accorded by Thursday evening's crowd.

It's impossible not to smile while watching a performance by tap dancers. The movement -- heel to toe and all those time-step variations -- emits motion too infectious to resist.

And although Michelle Dorrance's new work -- produced in collaboration with her trusty companions, Derick K. Grant and Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, like Dorrance, fleet-footed tap artists -- bears the title "The Blues Project," one would be hard-pressed to uncover even a phrase of melancholia, at least in the movement.

But add a splendid and versatile score by the fourth constituent in the piece, Toshi Reagon, the composer, musical director, vocalist and lead guitarist, and you can find some authentically smoldering blues riffs, deftly matched in counterpoint by a sassy, fast-moving solo from Sumbry-Edwards.

Dorrance Dance is the official custodian of the work, but "The Blues Project," which emerges in 10 parts, generously passes the spotlight around to all nine of its dancers, during its brief presence on the Duke's platform.

They can move smartly in full complement, as they did in the beginning, with three groups reciting a cunningly constructed fugal movement, or they can form a small chorus of six offering all the precision one would expect of the Rockettes, with a few masterful three- and four-part steps.

Dorrance, tall, lithe and graceful, provided an exciting all-over-the-stage solo in Part V, as Reagon, in her straight-toned siren of a voice, intoned an original song about a mountain top, and Grant, later in the proceedings, pounded the platform with several beats to the second in a tour-de-force demonstration of the possibilities of tap as a percussive music-making instrument.

Another big guy, Nicholas Van Young, proving equally adept at the washboard in accompanying violinist Juliette Jones' hoedown solo, later displayed the percussive possibilities of the human body in a group soft-shoe routine sans the assertive tap shoes.


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