BY GUS SOLOMONS JR | City Dance, a 12-year-old repertory company from Washington, DC, made its New York debut at Joyce SoHo, February 1-3, with a program of eight dances by nine choreographers. Note to artistic director — programming so many works by different choreographers, even brief ones, in a single evening does disservice to the choreography. An audience can't really absorb so many artistic points of view in one sitting, so their attention turns instead to the versatility of the dancers.
Much of the company's performances are in educational settings around their home base, and while the breadth of artistic director Paul Gordon Emerson's taste may be laudable, and his troupe has sophisticated promotional materials and apparently substantial financial backing, sharper esthetic focus in programming might give City Dance the artistic definition it lacks.
City Dance has national promise, but its repertoire needs paring.
The program included forgettables — a vastly over-choreographed sextet with live video feed compounding the visual cacophony of aggressive, sinuous movement; and a static, sentimental 1996 piece by a deceased dance maker, featuring dated “modern-ballet” vocabulary that doesn't age well.
More intriguing was the quirky sensibility of “Bubbles” (2006) by Jean Green and Idan Sharabi, danced capably by Delphina Parenti and Jerome Johnson, and set to electric rock music by Autechre. Its physically intense twining and parrying, Euro-ballet style, ended too soon, as the couple drifted separately offstage before their relationship had been resolved.
Also memorable were the feral gyrations of compact gymnast Jason Garcia Ignacio in Jason Hartley's showy but slight solo “Nocturne Monologue” (2003).
A revival of modern dance pioneer Jane Dudley's 1938 “Harmonica Breakdown” was a little treasure. Dudley's visceral, Graham-influenced movement backed by Sonny Terry's wry, jazzy, mouth-organ music transcends time. Hardscrabble chugging walks and exuberant, spread-legged jumps, convincingly restaged by Sheron Wray and performed with lusty conviction and dogged determination by Parenti, still look and sound vitally contemporary.
Rehearsal director Christopher Morgan's 2005 “Rice” is an autobiographical monologue about a young Hawaiian boy, who grew up wishing he were as white as the rice his family ate at every meal. Although Morgan's unmitigated racial self-loathing is disturbing to say the least, his chatty patter and emphatic gesticulations about the laborious details of preparing and cooking rice offer the only humor in an otherwise unrelentingly earnest program.
Finally, a gripping rendering of Doug Varone's brilliant 1999 trio “Eclipse,” danced by Bruno Augusto, Wai Shan Lau, and Alice Wylie — an emotional portrait of post-apocalypse survivors, who find themselves inseparably bonded for better and worse — proves that City Dance has national potential. The technically capable dancers deserve to be spread less thinly and given more substantial works like the Varone and the Dudley — and fewer of them at a time, for their sakes and ours.