DAMAGEDANCE presented its first Colorado Season opener, Transitions, October 14-15 at The Dairy Arts Center in Boulder. The emotive evening featured five pieces, varying in tone and aesthetic, but all unified by Artistic Director Jessica Taylor’s unique movement vocabulary.
The program opened with GUT, a trio comprised of two female dancers and one male, each wearing a costume of one solid primary color. Each dancer performed a solo as her two contemporaries watched with interest. The stage was brightly lit and the mood airy; a drum kit served as the only score. Each dancer had an individual series of gestures, which unraveled into larger movements unique to each dancer. It wasn’t until near the end of the piece when all three moved in perfect and pleasing unison.
That. This. was a clear standout for the evening. This duet was both choreographed and danced by Taylor and guest artist Nile Russel. It began with Taylor in a wide-legged stance facing the audience as Russel crawled towards her from one side of the stage. When he reached Taylor, he bumped into her, and the two seemed to meld together for the remainder of the piece. That. This. featured some of the most innovative and connected partnerwork I’ve seen on stage to-date.
An intense score by WhaleHawk reflected the tumult of Taylor and Russel’s relationship. The audience seemed to hold its breath, completely captivated. In one particularly surprising lift in which Russel flipped Taylor onto his shoulder as if she weighed nothing, the entire room exhaled with satisfaction. Though many of the movements featured large, weight-bearing lifts, no detail was left unattended. Fingers and ankles articulated, often drawing the eye unexpectedly. At several moments, Taylor seemed like a puppet, and Russel her puppeteer. He manipulated her with apparent easy, shifting her center of gravity and causing her limbs to fall as if disconnected from their base. This duet could merit a performance in and of itself, and not a single audience member would go home disappointed.
The last work before intermission, entitled Shifting Wires, felt like a true introduction into Taylor’s artistic voice. The choreography demanded a strong center with loose limbs, resulting in movements that were forever controlled and often accented by the flick of an arm or leg. The entire work spoke to the cohesion of the group, and to their comfort with Taylor’s choreography. Like watching fish swim, this piece showed the dancers in a completely natural and comfortable state — it was as if we’d ventured into a space where they happened to be dancing. This work featured several short solos and duets, with the remaining dancers acting as mobile sets. Their slight movements created gently evolving backdrops that added to the complexity of the piece without drawing the audience’s eye.
A second favorite of the evening was WannaBe (The film), a short dance for film piece that received the 2nd Jury Award at the Short Waves Film Festival in Poznan, Poland in 2015. Set to an a capella rendition of “Puttin on the Ritz,” WannaBe struck a cord between the playful and the unpredictable. The film featured two dancers: one male and one female, both dressed in large pants held up by suspenders, a button-up shirt, and a bowtie, and both beautifully attractive. It opened to show the dancers wearing cardboard boxes on their heads, dancing with their hands in their pockets in a New York City intersection. Bystanders watched, concealing their giggles with their hands even after the boxes were removed from the dancers’ heads. Like pretty clowns, the performers took their goofiness incredibly seriously. They made faces, lip synced, and invited pedestrians to dance with them, then either joined in or watched stone-faced.
Transitions cultimated in a group piece entitled, Our Masks. This work featured all five company members in black costumes with tattered skirts. Black makeup lay painted across their eyes like a superhero’s mask. As if they were odd, shy birds, the dancers hid their faces from view, forming angular and contorted shapes. A score by Nils Frahm and Hilary Hahn/Hauschka built the intensity of the work, growing to a dissonance that was almost grating before falling back into euphony. A duet between petite Erin Giordano and lanky and tall Erik Ostrand was incredibly satisfying. Though opposite sizes, the pair seemed perfectly matched, somehow forming an equal relationship. The choreography of Our Masks was intimate yet violent, drawing long lines and then breaking them. As the dancers smudged the masks on each other’s faces, the name of the company felt whispered in the air.
Jessica Taylor’s distinct choreography knows no gender roles nor thematic limitations. If this evening was any indication of where Denver’s dance scene is heading, we have an exciting future ahead of us.
Ali Weeks: Ali is a professional dancer, Pilates instructor, and writer. She grew up in the Chicago area, studying dance and psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After graduation, Ali spent four years in San Francisco pursuing her dance career, teaching Pilates, and exploring her passion for writing. She moved to Denver in February 2016, where she continues to dance and teach Pilates. In addition to her contributions to Presenting Denver, Ali writes for SF-based Pilates studio OnPointe Training and Denver-based nonprofit Threads Worldwide.