Ballet, Contemporary, Dance

3rd Law Dance/Theater’s “ROOF Over Our Heads”

A review by Gwen Gray

Till We Wake | Heather Gray Photography

Till We Wake | Heather Gray Photography

I suspect that it takes a certain amount of restraint for the ever-forward-thinking 3rd Law Dance/Theater to pause and take a look back through their 13-year repertoire, as they did on the evening of June 14 in Boulder. Nevertheless, the retrospective — which paid tribute to The Dairy Center for the Arts, their home for those 13 years — gave the audience a worthwhile opportunity to step back with them and admire the threads, themes and styles running through the company’s work since its inception.

Through the evening’s ambitious, widely varying 10-dance program, the conceptual, complex and often cerebral approach for which co-artistic directors Katie Elliott and Jim LaVita are known was evident. In the opening piece, “Blind Contour,” which originally debuted as part of a Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art installation, the choreography sets out to explore the space between perception and creation, as inspired by the drafting technique of blind contouring. Large screens project Elliott’s own live drawings, while at a frenetic pace, the dancers enact the push-and-pull between individual thought and group dynamics, falling into each others’ arms, spring-boarding off of one another, or being lifted high above the others while futilely pedaling through the air.

In other concept-heavy excerpts, such as “No There There,” “Riemann Zeta Function” and “Seen Unseen,” the troupe’s trademark use of projected light seems to beam us into a future existence — sometimes an eerie one, as in “No There There.” Dancer Michelle Pugh implores the audience, wide-eyed, as she probes the limits of her existence in a digital world — bravely taking off one futuristic glove and then the other and testing out a newfound freedom — and then surreptitiously weaving in and out of a drone-like, synchronized group of dancers.

Endgame | Heather Gray Photography

Endgame | Heather Gray Photography

Even the more lighthearted of the evening’s dances were revealed to have conceptual roots, including the tutu-bedizened “Steppin’ Outside” and the delightful, black-and-white-striped “C’est Moi,” during which dancer Jamie Melaragno hit a dazzling cabriole at the perfect percussive moment, setting the pitch-perfect tone for the rest of the piece.

Elliott and LaVita explained during a set change that even “High Heels” — in which leopard skin-clad dancer Danielle Hendricks performs a solo romp across a leopard-print desk and chair before discovering a pair of red high heels in the trash can — was born of an artistic collaboration that debuted at the Jones Theater at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Photographer Jennifer Davidson created images of various subjects walking, which were then interpreted into music by local bands and then, in turn, translated into choreographic expressions by 3rd Law.

The only disappointment of the evening was that Zachary Carrettin of the Boulder Bach Festival could not be present for the staging of “Allemande,” danced to Bach’s familiar Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. The piece premiered in March’s well-received Obstinate Pearl, a full-length collaboration between 3rd Law and Carrettin. In the originally staging, Carrettin played the suite on his violin, center stage, as dancers Molly Pearson and Mason Lawrence Taylor negotiated around him, coyly setting off a thrilling, romantic frolic. While the pair of dancers pulled off the evening’s adaptation skillfully, I found myself, for the first 30 seconds, suppressing a groan that this audience was being denied the original, so thoughtfully staged moment between musician and dancers.

Seen Unseen | Heather Gray Photography

Seen Unseen | Heather Gray Photography

Throughout “ROOF,” I found myself marveling at the distinct qualities of movement that each of the company’s seven dancers possesses — Gwen Phillips’ compact, precise power contrasts with Page Jenkins’ tall, sweeping grace, for instance — and how Elliott never fails to use each of their strengths and styles to enhance the storylines. I believe it’s an effect that speaks to the intimate relationship between dancer and choreographer — and dancer to dancer — and one that translates to a comfortable intimacy with the audience.

In the fall, 3rd Law will return with a new, evening-length production called “Wanderer,” which will explore the social significance of the veteran’s journey home through themes echoed in three versions of The Odyssey. Audiences from both the modern dance and classical music crowds can also look forward to another collaboration with Boulder Bach Festival and Zachary Carrettin next year.

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