Jones and Bergeron at Momentum: What a Fine Thing

Camille LeFevre reviews the first weekend of Momentum, the Walker’s annual showcase for young choreographers. Justin Jones and Maggie Bergeron were up. Next weekend more will follow . . .

Maggie B

Morgan Thorson, Karen Sherman, Kristin Van Loon: I’ll watch these three women dance in anything. They’re compact, physically dynamic performers, immensely intelligent movers, and they boldly invest themselves in whatever they’re doing, sometimes with incidentally hilarious results. Choreographer Justin Jones has done fine things with them—along with Anna Marie Shogren and Chris Schlichting, two up-and-comers—in his new work “the SCREEN/the THING.”

Jones’ vigorous, fascinating work opened the 2007 Momentum: New Dance Works last weekend, on a double bill with Maggie Bergeron and Company’s sweet, nostalgic “House/Home.” The series showcases experimental dance works by “the next generation’s most promising artists,” and is curated by the Walker Art Center and the Southern Theater. So far, this year’s generation does, indeed, look promising. In fact, if “the SCREEN/the THING” is any indication, Jones has arrived.

His piece begins, literally, with a bang: a loud, monotone wall of sound animated by the dancers careering around the stage. They wear black pants with a bit of glitter in the fabric, solid color shirts (green, purple, orange or blue), and each wears a black wristwatch. They’re the same, but different. As they scurry or propel across the stage, gather into clusters, dance in unison or breakaway into singularity, they inhabit the same movement vocabulary, which is powered by a forceful, bounded energy.

Everything they do is truncated. Arms shoot out but stop at a bent elbow. Turns are made bit by bit, with quick ragged effort. Spread-eagle jumps produce narrow V’s, not wide ones. Tiny explosions of movement are contained. The dancers tip-toe walk with forceful small strides. Hands reach forward as if holding something. Wiggles and jitters happen in a snap. Thorson, Sherman, and Van Loon own it all.

But so does Shogren, who gets these moves all to herself in wonderful solo that seems to want to break free, but not really. That’s left to Elliot Durko Lynch, a sort of mad professor who spends most of the piece sitting among his academic rubble until he zooms out on his chair, gesticulating wildly. Schlicting also gets the spotlight, literally, in a brief harrowing solo of crouched, bent, spastic moves—and here he does burst free, running up the theater stairs at breakneck speed.

Even so, when Thorson slices through a cluster with one arm straight out and one straight back—giving that front arm a moment of thrust for emphasis—the overall feeling is one of containment, energy never fully released, atomic particles propelled to high speed inside an accelerator , generating enormous activity contained and controlled for a particular use. (Jones’ program note does say the piece has something to do with physics.) That use is to power Jones’s choreography, a communicative medium that’s flawlessly articulate, innovative, and surprising subtle. What’s it saying? It’s enough, really, to simply witness the articulation, the control, the forms these bodies take. But Jones has more on his mind.

Suddenly, there’s a big reveal. A painted scrim reproducing the Southern Theater’s arch but with layers of imaginary curtains slowly drops and there are two dancers in white leotards and floating skirts. They’re performing the same movements as the particle dancers (now lying on the floor) but more slowly, with energy that flows beyond the limits of their own bodies.

Who are these women? They’re not listed in the program with the rest of the performers. Jones seems to be making a statement about aesthetics; about traditional forms of dance (i.e., the white, pure, ballerina-like garb and the flowing style of movement) versus a choreographic vocabulary born of a singular, original vision—i.e., his. The piece ends, as it began, with a wall of sound, only this time it’s a great rush of waves as if we’ve entered the sea—the equalizer that reduces filigreed sandcastles and stolid bucket fortresses alike to the same level stretch of sand.

In contrast, Bergeron’s “House/Home” is all about flow, the circular process of leaving and returning, communicated through a choreography of swirl, sway, reach and curve. Bergeron’s cadre of long, lovely dancers—Sarah Baumert, Hannah Kramer, Leslie O’Neill, Jamie Ryan, Liz Wawrzonek—infuses this choreography with a tentativeness, a sense of waiting, as each of them negotiates a relationship with one of the miniature building structures on stage.

The piece opens with each of these structures—maybe a house, a chicken coop, a barn—illuminated from within, revealing the dancers curled fetally inside, or with adolescent legs and arms growing out of the house. Throughout the piece, the women dismantle, punch through, or knock over their structures until the stage resembles a homestead torn up by a tornado.

But the dancers also keep returning to those disassembled buildings. They fold themselves back into the rubble, or they pick up bits and pieces to assemble into a new structure. Their dresses—which Baumert constructed from scraps and lengths of different fabrics—also communicate this sense of incorporating pieces of the past into something anew, as does Chris Thomson’s lyrical score (which he performed live via laptop and saxophone), with its lyricism, plaintiveness and electronics.

Coming after Jones’ tightly constructed, curiously compelling “the SCREEN/the THING,” Bergeron’s “House/Home” looked in need of editing, and perhaps a clearer narrative arc with a few less “let’s deconstruct and rebuild again” loops. But both pieces, while opposed in tone, intent, choreography, and construction, demonstrate the ongoing vitality of a dance community capable of producing, and supporting, such dance makers and their work.

“Momentum: New Dance Works” continues with pieces by Off-Leash Area and by Cathy Wright, July 19-21, Thurs-Sat at 8 pm. Post-show discussion each Friday.