BECKET - If there's a thread that links the work of choreographers Kate Weare and Maureen Fleming, it's a tie that also binds our species: the ability to struggle, bounce back, and begin the struggle anew.
Otherwise, the two women are stylistic extremes: Weare traffics in a hot-blooded, hyper-physical post-modern dance, while Fleming explores her vaguely anguished take on the contemplative Japanese dance form Butoh. This week at Jacob's Pillow's Doris Duke Studio Theatre, Weare appears with her eponymous company - presenting a world premiere co-commissioned by the Pillow - and Fleming performs solo in three excerpts from two of her longer works.
Weare's 2007 "Sinnerman" opens the program, and like the sinnermen in Alvin Ailey's "Revelations," Weare keeps Adrian Clark on the run, though spasmodically, as he jogs and darts forward and backward in fits and starts. When he finally collapses/dives next to one of three women who've been lying immobile during his solo, the reverberation sends all three into tiny whole-body convulsions that become big flicks of their legs off the floor. They scissor their legs, roll, and crawl back. In the end - the women having slunk their way upstage - all four are standing, Clark tentatively, with the possibility of redemption hovering.
The four compelling dancers in Weare's world premiere "Bridge of Sighs" - Weare, Clark, Douglas Gillespie, and Leslie Kraus - depict the magnetism, healthy or not, that can draw and hold people together. The opening duet for Gillespie and Kraus sets the tone for the piece, somewhere between anxiety and menace. Yet there's a hint of playfulness as Kraus holds her comparatively tiny frame up to Gillespie's lankiness as they spar with the split-second timing of a theatrical swordfight. She punches his chest, he slaps/grasps her arm; she stomps forward, her legs twining between his, just missing his toes; he throws his arm around her upper torso, capturing her just as she backs into him, flinging her leg to wrap around him.
The arrival of Clark and Weare stanches the overt violence, but even as Gillespie and Kraus melt into the background, slow-dancing across the stage, their clutching, slippery embrace is unmistakably awash in abuse. The other couple has its own power issues - Clark dives his head into Weare's stomach, driving her back, though later his head traces down her torso, bowing contritely - but their neurotically charged physicality feels safer. Interestingly, the only glimpses of tenderness occur when the sexes are paired up, inviting the possibility that these four are not only in the wrong relationships; they're playing for the wrong team.
Indeed, these characters are trapped, but also, Weare has the compassion to remind us, human. Even the most flawed have needs and desires, and though the piece ends with Gillespie wielding his aggression over a new partner/victim, his own vulnerability has at last been exposed.
Exposure and vulnerability are at the heart of Fleming's work, and not just because she performs (mostly) nude. Fleming stretches and shapes her body methodically - and sometimes, excruciatingly - into truly awesome positions. This is human struggle at its most metaphoric as Fleming explodes all notions of what should be physically possible. In "Dialogue of Self and Soul" and "The Stairs," the imagery she creates is aided by props: a long bolt of fabric tethered on the diagonal corner in "Dialogue," and a darkly twisting staircase in "The Stairs."
In "The Sphere," however, Fleming relies solely on her body, her ghostly figure arching back until she's unrecognizable. This can't be easy, making her journeys poignant examples of the potency and elasticity of the human spirit.