On Stage: Texture Rocks

Alan Obuzor and Amanda Summers in "Broken Mirror." Photo: Katie Ging Photography

Alan Obuzor and Amanda Summers in “Broken Mirror.” Photo: Katie Ging Photography

I never thought I would see a mosh pit at the ballet. But then Texture Contemporary Ballet is all about breaking the social rules of this aristocratic European art form.

The company presented only its third epic production, Perpetual Motion, at the New Hazlett Theater. While it’s still hard to hold them back, this likable young group is showing signs of structure and thought as the dancers embraced the latest in a dizzying array of cool moves from a trio of choreographers…all used in the same pieces in varying combinations.

You heard me right. I don’t think that has often been done before. Well, maybe Eiko & Koma, the husband-and-wife butoh duo. And Nederlans Dans Theater director Paul Lightfoot and artistic advisor Sol León have worked together since 1989. But offhand I can’t think of anyone else (maybe you can).

Having three choreographers (one piece had four listed) working simultaneously might have been a first, except for the early collaborative days of Pilobolus.

It was fun to discover how Texture’s major contributors had such distinctive personalities as they began to emerge so powerfully. Founder and artistic director Alan Obuzor has a tasty palate of harmonious movement, so lovely to watch, with an eye for integrating large groups. Associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman lives up to her whimsical punk hairdo and pinkish/red hair. Her choreography is full of a crackling good imagination, often with tremendous fun and whimsy.

The latest addition is long-time friend and BalletMet dancer Gabriel Gaffney Smith, who brings a thoughtful weight to the mix. He is the dramaturg of the three, weaving a theatrical thread into the dance.

So what was the result?

Mixed, as you might have surmised, but generally a thumbs up for their efforts and the resulting progress they have achieved. Actually you could have made a mental game of it during the evening, trying to figure who did what where, especially in the final work, MOIP, which stood for the band, Meeting of Important People.

It was the kind of number where the audience could just hang out with the dancers. Dressed casually in tees and stretch pants of varying lengths (Erin Heintzinger and Cindy Jennings were good at making simplicity cool in this production), this was a response to MOIP’s congenial British rock/pop sound, the kind that makes you want to pop along with it.

Much of MOIP inspired an explosion of bodies in differing ways, like the dance floor of a club where the band was actually playing live on an upper balcony, leaving plenty of room to bounce, heads dangling and arms akilter, and yes, form that mosh pit.

The work used 14 songs, covering a lot of territory, from classical ballet leap sequences to a serpentine series of lines where one tiny dancer literally was dragged around until she finally got into the groove.

Although it went on a little too long and got a little too loose, MOIP showed how these young artists are learning the value of silence and reflection to put balance into their dance work.

So I liked the idea of a trio of couples, where they changed partners several times mid-stream, and the moment when Alan, Gabe and Kelsey were left as they sat and listened to the band. They are finding moments like these that blossom into movement, a pivotal step.

That also happened in Broken Mirror, where the dancers, although a little crowded, began by walking across the stage. Little dance poses and phrases started to erupt in the shards of light designed by Nicholas Coppula (just one of his many talents). Or where five men stopped suddenly as if teetering at the precipice of a cliff, a motif that was used later to good effect.

Set to Gabe’s soft new age score (another of his many talents), it had a tendency to smooth out too many wrinkles, unlike Mulberry Way, the opening piece and the strongest because each of the four sections, set to Elbow, had a differing perspective.

I liked the way Kelsey and Gabe balanced each others’ creative impulse, fashioning scenes that could have taken place in a neighborhood. Kelsey took the lead first in Grounds for Divorce, where the dancers stomped and slid in a sock ballet.

Gabe followed with a trio, None One, where Amanda Summers, who is developing an emotionally compelling stage presence, moved through two doors from one man to another in an apparent vein of abuse. (Ironically Gabe and Kelsey also fashioned a fiercely intense, but similar duet, Wash, that followed after Mulberry Way.)

The double pas de deux in the third section, Whether to Fly, featured the three choreographers, along with Ashley Wegman (yes, sometimes you needed a scorecard.) They all constructed two simultaneously intertwining duets in a work that could be performed with only two or with four, as it was done here.

It ended with One Day Like This, a communal wave of linking arms and circular patterns, all in all an intoxicating round of unbounded camaraderie.


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