In the Company of Dancers
Kitchen Theatre Company
through October 9 (273-4497 / kitchentheatre.org)
with Timothy Connell, Norma Fire, Lindsay Gilmour, Erin Hilgartner, Karen Koyanagi, Ryan MacConnell, Stephen Nunley, Audrey Pincus, Yvette Rubio, Lillian Stamey, and Shaina Ung
There is surefootedness, grace, indeed élan in the performances now taking place at the Kitchen Theatre.
A dance and music collage titled In The Company of Dancers, Rachel Lampert’s new piece is framed as the reminisces of an older dancer, presumably retired, played with zest and customary wryness by the wonderful Norma Fire. A dozen dancers spanning generations traverse the stage to accompaniment by a live piano trio, members of the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra (Linda Case on violin, Rosie Elliot on cello and Andrea Merrill on piano.)
The sheer kinesthetic experience is immensely pleasurable: there is a rhythmic and tonal subtlety to the evening that is much harder to capture in a typical text-driven play. And the utter confidence with which Lampert fills her stage (with the help of co-choreographer Lindsay Gilmour) announces a master at work. Nothing is tentative, nothing is forced within the movement itself. It is easy to simply sit back and enjoy the wash of sensuality, with phrases from Brahms, Bach, Glière, Mendelssohn, Dvorak and many more to buoy you forward. The range of age in the dancers gives the piece texture as well, with the flash of the youngsters set against the economy of phrasing of some of the older dancers.
Yet the evening is not without its limitations: two to be precise. The lesser of these is the choice of a classical piano trio for accompaniment. Most of the music is of the later Romantic period, and especially when played as excerpts from longer works, tends a little towards homogeneity.
That is minor. The trickier issue is the use of a narrative to stitch together what is essentially an evening of musical morceaux. Fire keeps speaking of the pleasant young man who is about to arrive (he never does) to take possession of her box of memorabilia. She flashes back to years of classes, first in a delightful little bit of Isadora Duncan inspired posing and prancing, then under the more rigorous direction of a Russian émigré, finally to years of being a dancer with a touring group led by a choreographer named Stephanie, and early NYC days sharing an apartment with fellow dancer Toby (Timothy Connell).
Regular Kitchen audiences will recognize these as stand-ins from Lampert’s ongoing autobiographical forays, including her own touring dance company (Rachel Lampert and Dancers.)
In this iteration, the narrative remains the merest of sketches, all edges smoothed away. While presented as memories, memory itself—elusive, self-contradicting, subject to elisions and re-structuring—is not a subject. The evening is no more than what it presents itself: a scrapbook. The other elements that telling a story on a stage seem to promise us—surprise, struggle, reversals—rarely enter in. Nostalgia and sentiment take over.
Throughout, however, the performers are scintillating. Standout moments include a quirky piece to Shostakovich by Gilmour, where isolated moments with quivering feet keep recurring, mixed with strong postures and propulsive moments. Gilmour favors a look of strength and purpose in her women dancers that is refreshing.
Lampert shares with Gilmour an easy use of technique and a good dollop of whimsical humor. Her choreography tends to feature a lot of quick partnerings (Stephen Nunley, a veteran of her company particularly shines in this respect), sharings of weight and balance, and an easy melodic line. Her most extended piece is the winner of the evening, a dance in four movements for a quartet of dancers in pajamas with a giant ribbon of a quilt.
Without the narrative, however, we would be bereft of one truly magical moment: a half-remembered impromptu tap dance (in bare feet) between Norma Fire and Connell that straddles the distance of now and then with both effervescence and a whiff of sadness.
Tyler Perry provides pellucid lighting.