A conceptual Munisteri marries tension with buoyancy
Now that Ben Munisteri isn’t dancing with his company, he stands on a sort of “Earthly Perch,” choreographing with a wiser perspective. One of Ben Munisteri Dance Projects seven dancers, Ben look-a-like Eric Sean Fogel, said in the after-talk that the work is “more conceptual” now. With Kathy Kaufman’s simple lighting solutions and as seen in Dance Theater Workshop’s fine black box theater that seems to invite experiment, the
40-year-old Munisteri’s new work shows as much maturity as childlike delight.
“Turbine Mines” was down pat January 18 two years after at its grand Joyce premiere. The cast is a cool, otherworldly subculture moving to Vangelis’s soundtrack from “Blade Runner,” a collage of sounds including lines such as “I’ve seen things…” that suggest premature world-weariness. It’s balanced by a sugary innocence as in Danica Holoviak’s wheelbarrow-style supported turns—with her hands on the floor and feet held by a partner. Katherine McDowell’s scintillating iridescent costumes seem woven of the contradictions.
“Not Human” premiered earlier this year. It opens with the sound of kitten meows, immediately relaxing the audience with its light humor. Six rumps are raised; the bodies crawl as if in pursuit of a possible foe, imagined or real. To roaring, the two men prance with ballet hands poised like paws. The cat sounds fade into Eno, Debussy, Devo, and the feline imagery dissolves into no specific species. Blurred digital patterns of skyscraper windows at night follow projected palmate fronds. In abstract fashion, the animals go clubbing, with some nice partnering. Animal behavior is a common theme and a tough act to follow. Highlights are Lisa Wheeler’s upbeat solo to the sound of dogs barking, and Hope Davis’s spectacular instep.
Munisteri’s idiosyncratic formalism creates compelling and poetic theater in the brand new “Tuesday, 4 a.m.” The cast wears billowing vintage nightdresses and pjs, dancing to Stravinsky’s “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra.” It is like a choreographer’s dream in which the wee hours inspire total abandon; anything can happen, and what happens here seems more real than imagined, even if events are only abstractly suggested.
In a diagonal septet, three pairs couple positioned like crabs. In a curious but credible repeated gesture, a female dancer piggybacks on a partner and beats his/her shoulder with a clenched fist. The love tap evinces frustrations that foment in relationships or recalls a child protesting bedtime. A Tiffany pattern projected on the floor dresses the stage with almost religious significance when Holoviak’s batterie flutter over it in a solo. Through Kaufman’s magical stagecraft, an orange sun burns the black cyclorama, dropping while a pale moon rises.
Christine McMillan’s infectious pleasure is a highlight of the wonderful “Thunderblood,” which premiered at Jacob’s Pillow this past summer. Bright pinks and oranges dominate the unitards worn by the cast and the movement is bare of reference and narrative. In McMillan’s solo, her hands express the vibrato in a live duet of Evren Celimli on violin and Mike Rivard on bass. Long time Munisteri collaborator Celimli’s commissioned score is the backbone of this piece of pure dance. The music’s Middle Eastern thread inspires Egyptian angularity and totemic formations. It looks very rhythmic and Munisteri reveals in the after-talk that the dance was rehearsed to only a percussive track of the music—the melody was added later. A trio retreats on their hands and knees while three advance, infiltrating their diagonal line on foot. Tricia Brouk stands on a pedestal of Fogel and Beau Hancock on all fours. There are convoluted trios, cantilevered pairs, and airplane lifts. Music and movement freeze and their single thread hangs in the air indelibly.
Munisteri’s unique marriage of tension and buoyancy challenges his dancers, who nevertheless interpret his vision personally. Munisteri evolves with “Thunderblood” and “Tuesday,” using two interesting and uncharted musical choices and reveling, as other contemporary choreographers also are, in the power of pure dance.