Choreography by Michele Miller and Alana O Rogers split last weekend’s modus operandi at Velocity Dance Center (October 10-12, 2014). Regardless of the themes of each choreographer’s work, the M.O. of the show was clearly dancers in their element. Each contributed something special: Mariko Nagashima’s precise buoyancy, Marissa Quimby’s crazy-articulate spine, and Danica Bito’s jaw-dropping, one-armed horizontal cartwheels. However, even with standout moments from individual performers, these casts worked well in ensemble.
Alana O Rogers Dance Company showed two pieces of Rogers’ work. The first, SIGHT, featured six blindfolded dancers, each painted a different color. The dancers progressed from moving in solo, to conversational duets, to moving as a group with a vocabulary that referenced a classical modern dance aesthetic—elegant lines and tight unison—to the pulsing, otherworldly electronic music. While syncing with the music made for great unison even while blindfolded, the even pacing fell a bit flat. Throughout the work, the dancers removed and replaced their blindfolds, but it was unclear what logic drove these shifts. Between this and a mysterious grid taped on the floor, SIGHT seemed to hint at a narrative that never quite revealed itself.
Rogers’ second piece, REWIND, involved an elaborate set up of bed, kitchenette, and desk area framing the stage. A woman (Karena Birk) interacted with the set while five other dancers inhabited the center of the space—they seemed to represent Birk’s inner landscape. According to the program notes, the material took inspiration from “neurons and the stories of those living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” Weaving in and out of unison, the dancers had a graceful, lyrical quality, but with an edge of urgency that mirrored Rogers’ themes. Upstage, Birk prepared breakfast—with actual bacon frying and coffee brewing. In a moment of poignant disconnect, she poured the coffee not into her cup, but directly onto the table. Later she wrote lists on a chalkboard and then erased them, but this action didn’t quite have the same clarity and potency as the kitchen scene. Even so, Birk conveyed a powerful presence and gracefully humanized the experience of living with a memory disorder.
Miller presented three works, all of which displayed inventive partnering and full throttled physicality. The first work, What We Have, was a trio of counterbalance, spirals, and collision, all performed with an effortless soaring quality. One lift fell seamlessly into another—and then into another and another. It was almost too clever: each puzzle-like weight share could have used just a touch more breathing room to really register its meaning. The opening image of Jana Kincl walking from the audience onto a backlit stage was stunning. Returning to a similar quietness once in a while might have added depth to the cleverness.
Threshold, also by Miller, was a duet with similar construction, but a bit more contemplative—this time, the weight sharing worked to suspend the moments. An unexpected hesitation of a fall or graceful walk with the dancer’s toes barely brushing the floor cultivated a richness in the piece. Miller’s dancers are well adapted to the athleticism of her movement, displaying the strength and coordination necessary to execute breathtaking falls and physics-defying floorwork that seemed to come out of nowhere. Because the material was so tightly rehearsed, the very occasional anticipation of a movement could stick out and momentarily break the illusion, but one was always quickly drawn back in.
I AM the Bully is really where Miller’s skill hit in full force. The physicality and tumbling of her choreography suddenly became extremely evocative within the context of bullying. Victoria McConnell began in solo as the words “You are all alone” were repeated. She scrambled, fell, recovered, and balanced, displaying simultaneous strength and vulnerability. The rest of the cast then joined—swirling and kicking in dramatic inner conflict. The movement delved deep into the psychology of the bully, revealing insecurity and a need for self-preservation beneath the dancers’ aggressive erratic behavior. The group soon formed a pack and exhibited a heightened aggressive state that turned against one member and then another. The physicality of the movement served as an abstracted violence that triggered an intense kinesthetic understanding of ancient, deeply imbedded human nature.
Miller and Rogers both brought strong points of view to the stage. While Miller’s work feels more complete this time around, there is a maturity about Rogers’ work. She chooses to neatly sidestep current dance trends and head confidently in her own direction of exploration.