Dinner Meets Dance

Sensedance presents an idiosyncratic, unexpected smorgasbord of delights

Henning Rübsam’s Sensedance is one of New York’s sensational delights. On a rainy Yom Kippur eve, the Baruch Performing Arts Center was nearly full with a youngish crowd of aesthetes. The choreographer and company director Rübsam titled his dance concert “Dinner is West,” borrowed from Gertrude Stein.

“Food is what I like,” Rübsam explained in his program notes, “and a direction is always good to have.”

The evening began with the lovely “Chorale” danced by two guests from Dance Theatre of Harlem. The two bodies couldn’t have been more different, but brutish Ramon Thielen perfectly partnered lithe, girlish Melissa Morrissey who stopped on a dime. The diva’s cool abandon belied her strength and vivid presence. Equally vivid and on the mark, Thielen stood behind her, and they framed each other’s faces with palms and utter respect. Ricardo Llorca’s piano composition recorded by Terrence Wilson added to the force.

African-American Dartanion Reed and the blonde Rübsam danced a duet to Braham’s “Double Concerto,” another loving piece. They exchanged fervid stares in Apollonian poses, battle and surveying postures. They also promenaded, helped each other up, and Reed hoisted the large blonde without flinching. They walked on each other’s prone and plank-like backs, supporting each other with equal stoicism.

“Django Suite” was danced to five 40s songs by Django Reinhardt, known as the father of European jazz. In a first duet to “Echoes of Spain,” Thielen whipped around with his arms following him in curved flourishes. Morrissey was in her own orbit… until they met and she slyly pinned a chiffon flower to his butt. Andrea Long did a skittish solo in a beaded flapper dress and Long and Morrissey danced the Charleston. The men tripled with silly smiles and antics in black shorts and white tanks to “Belleville.” To “Dinette,” Thielen soloed in derby and suspenders over his bare muscled chest. His dance was loose and improvisational and hip-switching flourishes gave it a streetwise sense of humor.

“Save the Country” lived optimistically up to its name as danced to Laura Nyro. It was over the top with exuberance and irreverent abandon. Rübsam grabbed his crotch before meeting Ashley Sowell on stage, both were in ‘70s print shirts, loose-fitting pastel colored pants, and bare feet. Their infectious smiles could not fail to plant us, for that brief interlude, in those “happy days” where freedom as an ideal seemed possible. This pair embodied the concept that presidential promises fail to conjure.

Christine Reisner, who worked with Leonide Massine and was a Nikolais dancer and a Parisian cabaret singer/ dancer, performed “Dance Bag.” A clever prop doubled as a costume for her dancer character; she tried out her pirouettes to Beethoven’s ballet class music, emptying her bag of unlikely garments.

If “Dance Bag” was a divertissement, then a second premiere “Dinner is West,” was worth the wait. To original recorded music by Beata Moon, it was danced in seven parts by Long, Morrissey, Rübsam, and Thielen. In shades of orange lit magnificently by Stephen Petrilli, the men hatched from the flowing skirts of the women, who were sitting a few feet apart. Rübsam and Thielen lifted them as if they were precious objects, and then laid them flat on the floor. Lying face up in a pool of mottled light, Long and Morrissey appeared to wake on a forest floor.

Thielen was about to dance, then he curled up on the floor and emerged from a cramped contorted movement by stretching his limbs. He joined the others in a folksy quartet. Rübsam encouraged them with gestures, clearly reveling in his construction of floppy, delighted movement. A ring of rosy participants ended the evening emanating good vibrations, and impressed us unwittingly with their artistry.

In Stein’s poem “Tender Buttons,” her line “Dining is West” stands alone and typically defies meaning. Rübsam’s dances are equally idiosyncratic and juxtapose movements culled from unexpected places. The collage “Dinner is West” is a cogent keeper.

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