At a time when thousands of refugees fill our media and our minds with grim images, it’s a challenge to realize that some might choose to remain in a transitional place—that while many travel hoping to reach a destination, for others, the process is the reward.
While Nomads, the first work from the newly-formed JKLM Studio, doesn’t address the issue of exile and displacement, it does reflect on the state of being in transit. Co-directors Kori Martodam and Jonathan Lilly have gathered an ensemble of improvisers to explore that place between having it all mapped out and leaving everything to chance.
The work begins with a procession—dancers entering the space from behind the audience, singing and carrying a pair of lanterns. The language isn’t recognizable. It all feels like a shared ritual. They kneel in a line, facing downstage, and begin to dance, for each other as much as for us.
These opening solos and duets lay out the parameters of the movement style. Each of the dancers seem to be bringing their own vocabulary to the tasks at hand, but there is a shared feeling of restraint throughout the cast. Even in moments of agitation or glee, there is a constant sense of control. A gentle dynamic runs through much of the evening.
Though the cast is working improvisationally, they’ve structured several group phrases with interconnected material. The most effective ones have a circular, kaleidoscopic quality and it’s satisfying to watch the patterns unfold over time. Throughout the work, the material that seems to have more complex mechanical structures or more organized, coordinated action, makes a deeper impression.
The opening procession and the title itself hint at a kind of journey, but it seems to be mostly a private one—the dancers reveal themselves to us over time, but don’t really seem to transform. Instead, there are moments where we see a flash of a character, someone we might recognize from our own lives outside the theater. Martodam emerges as an organizer, at one point guiding someone across the floor by a single finger on the head, rearranging several people into a tableau later on, all while keeping her own counsel. Lilly has a softer quality, especially in a duet with Spring Cheng, where they negotiate their shared support, shifting back and forth. Corina Dalzell and Molly Levy are observant, even while they’re moving—taking cues from each other in a duet full of mimicry.
The lighting design by Kyle Sobel both defines the space and organizes the structure of the program, giving some crisp edges to the beginnings and endings of different sections. Casting shadows on the white curtains surrounding the stage space, or making the dancers into silhouettes by lighting them from behind, Sobel’s contribution is an active part of the work. The musical score, by Serge Gubelman, Erin Jorgenson, and Stephen Vitiello with Molly Berg, also helps clarify the individual sections while adding some welcome dynamic variations.
Throughout the evening, the dancers maintain a sense of calm, even during complex moments—when it looks like they might be shifting into more heightened kinetic material, they usually rein themselves back in. This dynamic consistency gives some of the work a curiously timid quality, as if they weren’t able or willing to make a definite stand. If a nomad is someone who is constantly wandering, perhaps that is how it might feel.
Nomads performed at Velocity Dance Center January 13 and 14, 2017.