|Members of Caitlin Corbett Dance Company perform “Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva’’ at the ICA. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)|
A moving celebration, in the abstract
The best abstract dances not only light up your eyes but tug at your heart. Yes, their architectural “rightness’’ — the sterling juxtaposition of their moving parts — hits you where you live. But the fact that human beings craft those lines, curves, and angles out of flesh and blood, breath and feeling, makes them pack an emotional wallop, too.
Friday night, in the glorious Institute of Contemporary Art theater, three of Boston’s premier abstract choreographers socked home that seeming contradiction.
Caitlin Corbett’s six female dancers shaped two offerings: “no obvious poetry, either’’ (premiere) and “Quiet Line/Hiljainen Viiva’’ (2009).
The dances are almost polar opposites. The first, a quartet, uses the driving music of the Books as its launching pad. Accelerating exponentially, it encapsulates Corbett’s aesthetic of skimming bodies capped by cryptic, idiosyncratic gestures executing phrases that celebrate movement itself with its dynamics, tempos, and shape and directional shifts. But it took “Quiet Line,’’ a dance for six, to show how those discrete gestures and floor patterns evoke meaning.
Set to a sound score ranging from Ann Steuernagel’s “found sounds’’ to Steve Reich’s “Six Marimbas,’’ “Quiet Line’’ springs from a still point: Corbett’s time, alone in Helsinki, where night goes on for days.
In this stark, glistening work, arms overhead descend like falling rain and individuals sprinting from a line are pulled back, as if by magnetic force. Comings and goings, in kaleidoscopic arrays, abound. Now all six dancers, in a row, raise their arms elbow first while enclosed in a rectangle of light; now one woman curves over another in a vertical spooning, recalling the tranquillity of isolation and the richness of bonding.
Daniel McCusker’s premiere, “hidden noise’’ is a commentary on collaborative dancemaking, inspired by the ICA setting. The title alludes to a work of art, Marcel Duchamp’s “With Hidden Noise,’’ a readymade that comprises a ball of twine between two brass plates and a “secret’’ noisemaker tucked inside.
Created for eight members and danced in silence (another nod to “hidden noise’’?), the piece is a paean to pacing, with the group-generated material — a head toppling into an elbow crook here, a prone dancer slapping her arms to the floor there — sliced, diced, sequenced, and then shuffled and sequenced again. Combinations of couples, singles, and groups meet onstage, repeating but dynamically altering motifs: a jumping jack suspended in midair or a bent body with arms extended groundward in a V. The very stage space changes, too, as dancers run, turn, or drop. It contracts to a line, expands to a plane, then blows out into three dimensions.
It’s intriguing — and the tenderness that emerges among the dancers makes you smile. But dancing in silence is tough, and “hidden noise’’ becomes wearing. McCusker’s pristine, geometrical dances are typically lit by a culture of humanism that jibes with his smart musical choices. Consider his other contribution, “Indian Summer’’ (2000), a solo performed by the intensely musical Alyza Del Pan-Manley to a Chris Eastburn score. The piece glows, like the sun reflecting off water. “Hidden noise,’’ however, evinces a dryness by its close.
Kelley Donovan’s “Age of Unraveling’’ (premiere) is just that, an organic unraveling — and re-raveling — of explosive yet serpentine movement phrases.
A dance for 10 set to music by Punck, and others, it’s characterized by physical oxymorons. The vocabulary is at once raw and ragged, fluid and circular. The dancers never let their weight rest in one position for more than a nanosecond, it seems, so each shape not so much shifts as catapults into the next. Dancers join, split, enter, and exit in dizzying permutations.
In this world of strings let loose, themes flit by. A hand pulls out from the head, as if yanking a string. Backs stretched out flat curve into an old woman’s hunch. Donovan herself startles with her dexterity. A spiral initiated in her wrist turns her entire body inside out. The dancers’ endurance astonishes, but some editing would have added to the work’s emotional resonance. We need a chance to catch our breath.
Thea Singer can be reached at email@example.com.