One of the most gratifying aspects of choreographer Deborah Abel's hour long concert over the weekend was that, at its most elemental, it reminded us to breathe. Titled "The World Is Breathing" and fueled by ideas from the Bhagavad Gita , it was an earnest affair that also reinforced the power of personal connections, of relationships both intimate and communal.
It was tied together by live music, most of it amorphous new-age- style meanderings created by composer/guitarist Lee Perlman (Abel's husband) and an impressive 10-member ensemble of instrumentalists and vocalists. It all began with a repeated bass note figure evoking the sound of the human heart, accompanied by the sound of breathing slowly in and out. Dancers, gorgeously costumed in shades of blue and green, entered as a pulsating cluster with arms undulating like the ebb and flow of the ocean. Occasionally, one dancer would rise high out of the group, reaching upward.
Abel and Jeffrey Polston emerged as the central couple whose relationship blossomed, frayed, then reconnected during the course of the concert. Their two duets were the heart of the work. In the first, begun atop a raised platform, was a dance of mutual support and burgeoning affection. Often one partner's body was urged to move with only the suggestion of touch, an implied caress, a gentle beckoning of the fingers, as if the two were playing with the currents of air between them. As their dance moved onto the main stage, their partnering became both more intricate and dynamic, with striking lifts and deeply entwined embraces.
A lilting reggae ushered the group into a playful romp full of jazzy leaps and sashays, leading to more sensuous slow motion interactions. But when the musicians jarringly shifted into the Beatles' "She's So Heavy," the tone of the dance turned embarrassingly sleazy. Abel and Polston were individually drawn into seductive numbers with dancers of the opposite sex, hands stroking faces and sliding suggestively across bodies. Yet they kept reaching for one another, as if torn by their own desires. It was a little cheesy and disappointingly literal.
Their reconnection, however, was some of the more inventive, vigorous dancing of the concert. Tied together at one wrist, their coupling ranged from contentious to resigned, an uneasy alliance in which they repeatedly pulled away from each other only to fall back into each other's embrace.
The most moving section was a piece from 1996, "The Healing Circle." A quartet of women portrayed the power of communal support and friendship as they danced a lyrical group dance, stopping when one repeatedly collapsed, then performing fevered rituals to pull the sickness from her body. The most flamboyant dancing came with a short but dazzling breakout by the men -- Polston, Ivan Korn, and the acrobatic Ricardo Foster Jr.
Abel has solid choreographic chops and her company has talent. It would have been nice to see more substantive, tightly crafted dancing. Much of the choreography was so fluid and repetitive it looked loose. But this was a go-with-the-flow affair where you needed to leave your cynicism at the door. And it was right that it ended as it began, the dancers huddled together to that musical heartbeat and the soothing sound of inhale, exhale.