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Friday, March 6, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 3.0° F  Fair
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Guest director Amit Lahav brings out the best in Kanopy Dance performers
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The work of Lahav (seen here in "Overcoat") is smart and interesting.
The work of Lahav (seen here in "Overcoat") is smart and interesting.

I figured that with the title Dark Nights: Tanztheater, the current Kanopy Dance Company production at Overture Center's Promenade Hall would be dark in tone. And it is. But the evening is not without levity, and the new work by British guest director Amit Lahav is smart and interesting.

In Robert Cleary's premiere Ikaros, he mines Greek mythology in a piece in which Daedelas (Vivian Tomlinson with a mournful intensity) reflects on his life and failings. Initially Tomlinson tentatively moves across the stage in a series of arabesques before confronting the Minotaur (Edgar Molino sporting cool golden horns). We then see Daedelas in his younger days (Juan Carlos Diaz Vélez). He is teaching his son Ikaros (Isaac Robertson) to fly, with ultimately tragic results. Vélez and Robertson both reveal impressive technique.

Lisa Thurrell's Black Angels, choreographed in 1995 and re-staged this year, is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting spilling onto the floor of the theater. Meg Johnson as the Queen of Babylon splays out her long fingers like a demon as lost souls lumber or pounce around, then fall to the ground in herky, jerky seizures. One of the lost souls, young Yoshie Fujimoto Kateada, stands out with her excellent Graham technique and attack, and it's easy to see why she has been accepted into the Alvin Ailey program. Two white angels (Kerry Parker and Heidi Krause) appear, hoping to spread their serenity before Johnson is hoisted in the air by her minions. While the piece sometimes felt a bit heavy-handed, Thurrell has a sense for drama.

Thurrell's next piece, The Maw, a companion to Black Angels from 1997, is spare and unsettling. As the Fallen, Vélez begins the piece on the floor wound up in thin lavender fabric which he unravels as he begins to move. Accompanied by Allen Ginsberg's "Howl," Vélez pounces on grey wooden blocks, his working leg bent in attitude. Then he suddenly drops into a plié on his standing leg. Later he scratches and scrapes at himself. On another, less compelling performer, this section of the piece may have felt too arch, but Vélez can carry it off with his wild eyes and sinewy muscles.

He is visited by two white angels (again, the slinky Parker, now paired with athletic Elizabeth Simcock). Later the angels lose their white gowns and return just in flesh colored leotards, and the trio dance together in ways both creepy and sensuous. A menacing Vélez lays the women down on the blocks, his hands hovering over them, leaving them partially covered with fabric. They then pull on the fabric tubes which turn into stretchy jersey dresses. Joining Vélez at the back of the stage, the ladies are pulled backwards by the force of their contractions, doing little skittering heel walks. In a particularly interesting lift, Vélez hoists Parker up by slipping his arm between her legs, his hand possessively spread out across her rear.

The premiere of Monkey see Monkey do had a bit of technical trouble at the beginning Friday night, but when the collaboration between Kanopy and England's Gecko Theatre Company got going, it was quite satisfying. I worry that when I describe it, it will sound like an annoying hodgepodge of theater, dance and performance art, but I found myself sincerely liking it. Directors Lahav and Natalie Ayton brought out the best in the Kanopy performers, and the work seems current and compelling.

We follow the story of a missing girl in Madison, whose worried parents (Lisa Thurrell and Dustin Keyes) first look for her at a lost and found window manned by Ricardo Palacios (a natural comedian). We then hear a lecture on the science of souls from a professor (Vélez). Next it's Busby Berkeley pandemonium as the media and community find the story of the missing girl titillating. After a couple (Parker and Cleary) has a nasty battle, the professor gets a disturbing call about the wife's "shitty soul" and is pressured to perform a soul transplant, using the girl's sweet soul. Vélez and Kateada have a quirky pas de deux in which she slides down his torso and he ends up standing on her while grappling with his role in the soul project.

As I say, it sounds like a mess, but it works.

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