Dramatic Recipe: Four Choreographers, Dozens of Students, Moody Scores

By CLAUDIA LA ROCCO

The deal is this: the choreographers get time, space and numerous bodies with which to play; the college students end up in a real live show. Both parties win in the Barnard Project, a collaboration with Dance Theater Workshop that is presenting the fruits of its fifth-year labors in a run that began on Thursday night.

But what about that third party, the audience? The ticket holders have come to see a good show, but choreographers abruptly confronted with lots of dancers (particularly nonprofessional youngsters) don't always create compelling work.
This year, happily, the results are mostly good. Better yet, they are mostly interesting.

Susan Rethorst's “Hover” offers a witty, sensual series of nonnarrative, personality-infused vignettes for an all-female cast of eight. According to program notes, the choreographer partly constructed this evocative collage by sampling her old dances.

Accompanied by silence and brief outbursts of Wagner, no less, these young women scroll through and sometimes repeat deft, interlocking interactions. They arrange themselves in kaleidoscope patterns like the spokes of a wheel, efficiently and gently rearrange their companions' limbs or simply watch the action.
What strange yet recognizable action it is: all the daily little earthquakes of emotion and reaction that shudder subliminally through us.

Nicholas Leichter, whose slippery, rhythmic style slides between street and classical, does mash-up more than subliminal. “Waltzes, Wonder and First Choice,” a sexy meditation on shifting relationships for 13 dancers, is at its best when he complicates the forceful, familiar score by Alicia Keys , John Legend and others. When he doesn't, it lurches into awkwardly credible territory.

Nora Chipaumire is after something at once heightened and earthy in “bismillah.” Clad in short white hooded dresses and spiked through with Rhonda Rubinson's sunrise/sunset lighting, her 12 dancers might be initiates into a female world of — what? Surat al-Qadr's resonant song “Approaching the Qoran” hints at religion toward the work's end.

Before that, the score is the dancers' own exaggerated breath. Not all seem at ease with this, nor with the concentration and commitment required of Ms. Chipaumire's fierce squats and lunges and curvilinear raised arms.

This can make “bismillah” ponderous. Still, there is something terribly sweet about watching the performers work through it: they are true initiates.

By contrast, the disparate, decentralized parts of Morgan Thorson's “Monuments and Other Points of Interest: A Revisionist Construction of Closeness” seem always about to fly off. Remember that auditorium scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” when the pageant rehearsal breaks down, and all bets are off? “Monuments,” with its moody, changeable score (arranged by Ms. Thorson and Johanna S. Meyer), creates a similar world, simultaneously charged and drifty.

The five dancers (one male) get precise, sharp little phrases and slouchy pockets of stillness. They get blue bonnets. We get a compelling ride.

From The New York Times, published on April 24, 2009