How refreshing to see unabashed beauty on stage this past weekend. Dance Now! Ensemble’s recent performance at the Byron Carlyle theater, Decade II, was not edgy, or challenging, or barrier-breaking. It was pretty.
Decade II was presented as part of the Miami Dance Festival, a six-week series of performances by local and visiting dance companies. Dance Now! is co-directed Hannah Baumgarten and Diego Salterini, who seem to be of one mind. Despite the fact that each of the company’s eight repertory pieces was attributed to one or the other, never both, the show was characterized by a consistent vision and high level of polish – without the program notes, it would have been difficult to identify which choreographer did what. Some pieces were bite-sized glimpses of characters or ideas and others were more complex, developed compositions.
The company’s repertory leaned heavily towards ballet (one of beauty’s last strongholds). Classic steps – chenés to arabesques to fouetés – appeared throughout Baumgarten and Salterini’s choreography. “Mitosis,” a new addition to the Dance Now! repertory, was a glorious display of partnering, with dancer Megan Holsinger on pointe. Guest choreographer Tandy Beal’s “Forest Dreams” flittered like dry leaves, with delicate extensions and leaps marked by graceful hands and pointed feet.
Beyond ballet, there was theatrical storytelling. In the highly visual Oh!, a woman in a white evening dress appeared on the floor, in a sharply defined spotlight. She struck a series of poses that might have been taken from a vintage French poster, giggling now and then at the audience. Later in the show, another woman began in a similar spotlight, but this woman remained with her back to the audience. She, instead, was suffering from some form of anguish, pleading into the dark void of the stage. Both pieces functioned like an image in motion, no surprise considering that Dance Now! has presented work in and around the Bass Museum of Art, often illustrating the moods or characters in a particular painting.
The night’s most engaging work, Memos from the Last Millenium, balanced somewhere between ballet, contemporary dance, and theatricality. The storyline was boldly sexual, told in large part through costume. Three women entered the stage wearing gorgeously styled costumes: corsets, underskirts and bloomers, the undergarments of another century. Three men wearing similarly dated clothes danced with them and then, one by one, piece by piece, removed their clothing, never of course, arriving at something that would be equally scandalous today. The choreography was empowered, aesthetically beautiful and compositionally elegant.
Sexuality, sensuality, and romantic love played some part in almost every choreography. Even FloatingFlyingFalling, performed entirely inside a small rectangular box, was colored by eroticism. As dancer Christiane Silva flexed and contorted her body to escape space, her moments of freedom from repression were both visceral and emotional. Sexuality, as described by Dance Now!, is a pleasure rather than a problem, and it’s never confrontational.
Decade II was a gentle night of dance that was easy on the eyes. This is, in a way, a bold stance to take in a cultural environment that often equates discomfort with creativity.