The lure in the Gray’s production of ‘The Year’ is in the details. Choreographer & Director Beth Terwilleger has scattered almost hidden gems of counterpoint throughout the intricate and detailed choreography, creating depth that pulls the audience into the meaning behind the movement. Startlingly quick jumps and shifts of direction stop suddenly for a dancer to touch their lips and teeth before continuing back into frenzy. The directness and power of a confident stride is augmented by the slow revealing of each finger of a fist from one to ten. These subtle specificities of the movement give each piece its power.
In many moments the work seems to wrestle against formality and tradition. Dancers Robert Moore and Alicia Pugh in The Very Important Piece wear matching outfits consisting of delicate black button ups with bows nestled at the collar bone over black leotards exposing the lengths of their legs. From the hips up they are prim, but their lower bodies are proudly exposed and articulated.
Their duet bends them in, out, and around one another. They spiral between moments of unison and take turns wrapping each other up in varying embraces. We might see them as objects of each other’s desire if it weren’t for the way their gaze travels them ever closer to a third, unlikely partner: a whole, untouched cream pie waiting unassumingly downstage right. It’s ridiculousness at its finest when the earnest yearning of their dance brings Pugh to the final point of rest — an enthusiastic face-first dive into the pie.
Each piece similarly creates its own air of tension and suspense, bolstered by the full and extravagant choices of musical accompaniment. In The Cafe, the score created by composers Gideon Freudmann, Annalisa Tornfelt, and Camille Saint-Saens echoes the evolution of the movement from taut and controlled to utterly eruptive.
Dancer Meredith Pellon begins the piece, bathed in a downstage spotlight. The strings of the music pull her upper body through a series of sharp staccato movements as her eyes remain fixed on the audience.
The view widens to show the stage is set, as the title would suggest, as a cafe. Long white table cloths drape over tables; Moore and Pugh sit at one, accompanied by yet another pie. Throughout what unfolds, they remain in a silent, slow motion gossip sesh over the emerging action. Pellon takes a lone path around the perimeter of the stage, ending upstage on her back, slowly ripping shreds of paper with careful attention.
From opposite corners of the stage, Corbin Hall and Devin Muñoz are magnetically pulled toward one another. We know from the program notes that this piece is “not about sex. It is about judgement…” but their duet is thick with sexual tension. As they slink slowly nearer, they remove their shirts leaving them each in their underwear.
The sound of ripping paper and Moore and Pugh’s silent opine lend an air of scandal to the scene as if perhaps we shouldn’t be watching what we’re watching. The feeling of being exposed is heightened when, after completing their duet, Hall and Muñoz reclothe and walk right up to the edge of the audience, looking out at us with the piercing gaze of a judgemental mother.
The most commanding moment of the evening comes in the third work of the night: Ivana Lin’s solo which begins The Nine Lives, based on the short story by pioneering female science fiction author, Ursula K. Le Guin. Lin’s confidence and power is an underscore to the themes of the program thus far: temptation, wildness, eroticism, and sensuality. She gives me goosebumps.
Lin portrays the planet Libra from Le Guin’s story, an inhospitable and barren landscape that has been exploited through mining of its uranium rich soil. She cycles through a sequence of movements that travel her across the length and width of the entire stage. Her presence is mighty, and her energy radiates to the edges of the room. Behind her, ten bodies lay, motionless in an equidistant line. It is clear that Lin is in control of this group as she moves effortlessly into and out of the floor, her black, cloak-like dress dramatically spiraling out in a trail behind her. Her progression is punctuated by a decisive march forward that repeats throughout the piece, reminding the audience of the vast, cosmic nature of her force.
Throughout the program, Terwilleger embraces traditional choreographic structures and form, choosing to stray from conventionality in the details of the movement. The choreography pushes the performers to be both technical and highly expressive. Certain moments are more successful than others at achieving this balance, but overall the dancers are committed and engaging. The work is approachable–it delivers just the right amount of intrigue to keep an audience interested without pushing anyone’s buttons.