The slogan of [the] movement initiative is “Dare to move,” and daring is clearly bred in the bones of founders/directors Caryn Glass and Ami Ipapo – both are veterans of Streb Extreme Action, the Brooklyn company known for its bruising physicality and aerial work that makes your heart catch in your throat. Although no one leaped from scaffolding in “Breaking Ground,” the company’s show at the White Box Theater last weekend, there was plenty of daring and originality and infectious fun.
The cherry on the top of this sundae is that [the] movement initiative is local. Glass and Ipapo started the company in Brooklyn in 2010 and moved here two years ago, and how excited was I to see their work for the first time? Let me count the ways.
1) Their vision is big, and so is their talent. They hope to develop “Breaking Ground” as a “Contact”-type dance play to songs by Denver folk-rockers the Lumineers; playwright Sarah Hunter is doing the book, inspired by the song “Charlie Boy” about a man who goes into the army and gets killed. It’s a hugely ambitious project, but Glass and Ipapo bring a lot of chops to the table – beyond their contemporary dance backgrounds, Ipapo makes dance films (and there are film segments in “Breaking Ground”); and Glass had a major role (the Girl in the Yellow Dress), under the direction of “Contact” creator Susan Stroman, in two productions of the Tony Award-winning show.
Last weekend, they showed the first act of “Breaking Ground” in a very low-budget form – for instance, the time period was hard to pin down, because the costumes, no doubt scavenged from thrift stores, suggested maybe the 1940s or 50s, background music included stuff from the 20s, and from my reading of the “Charlie Boy” lyrics, the story should be set in the mid-60s. Still, it was great fun, from the moment I figured out that some of the people walking in with the audience were performers, who become part of a bar scene onstage. And when they broke into the first dance number, 13 dancers moving in unison with Broadway meets hip-hop choreography, wow! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Glass and Ipapo invited to choreograph for “So You Think You Can Dance.” Their work has that kind of vernacular accessibility and quickness, for instance a bit where dancers leaped over one another’s prone, rolling bodies.
2) They’re able to inspire dancers and pull strong performances out of them. Most of the cast was young dancers whom I’ve seen perform around town, and I’ve never seen them look as good as they did in this hybrid choreography. Group numbers were tight and crisp, and Marty Dorado was lyrical in a solo as Charlie. And when dancers are asked to speak lines, it can be disaster, but not here. Glass, who directed, made it work.
3) While Glass and Ipapo can summon “So You Think You Can Dance” pizzazz, they’re also thoughtful, complex dance makers, qualities that came through particularly in shorter works in the second half of the program. In “FWD,” created by Glass, dancers carry red suitcases and cycle through impatience, capoeira-style standoffs, and puppet and puppet-master dramas of control. A touch of magic happens when they open the suitcases, and there are lights inside. The piece lost focus toward the end, but it was rich with images and ideas.
Ipapo’s “Like No One’s Watching” opens with her doing a delicious solo – running with arms spread like airplane wings, miming swinging a lasso, floating a la Isadora Duncan – that’s comic but also a marvel of control. Then comes a film, where we see snippets of 18 people, not trained dancers, dancing alone with masks on … as if no one’s watching, and we gradually realize their spur-of-the-moment movements were the source of Ipapo’s choreography. Another Ipapo film, “Distraction,” is a fantasy at a yoga studio; I’ll never again look at a rope wall without seeing the wild things she did with it.
4) [the] movement initiative’s performance was part of the Choreographers Symposium, a series of four weekends of dance through the month of October curated by Dark Horse Dance Productions and Mounarath-Powell Productions, and it’s great to see these energetic young presenters come on the scene.
I do have one gripe. Why the bracketed [the] in [the] movement initiative’s name? It’s annoying to type, and I anticipate this won’t be the first time I’ll be writing about this hugely promising new company.
The Choreographers Symposium also presented Los Angeles-based Donna Sternberg & Dancers last weekend, in a show prior to [the] movement initiative. “Desire,” the company’s 70-minute (or so) piece, has an intriguing premise: Sternberg explored plant biology as a metaphor for human desire. And in one ravishing section, four woman, topless and in long petal-like pastel skirts, dance with their backs to us – what a gorgeous display of the supple beauty of the human spine! Much of the piece, however, relies on bombastic music for emotional heft, and the black bras and panties, with sheer black overskirts, worn in one section gets my vote for most unfortunate costumes I’ve seen in a long time.