Elegy and Feast

Fiona Marcotty-Dolenga’s “Paradise Strategies” tells diverse love stories

Choreographer Fiona Marcotty-Dolenga and her ensemble Beat Upon Beat offer a sensory feast in “Paradise Strategies,” an elegy for dance world friends Homer Avila, Alan Eto, Dani Nikas and Amy Sue Rosen.

In this offering on May 15, as part of David Parker’s soaking WET series at the Upper West Side’s West End Theater, five dancing bodies tell stories of tentative love and self-love. In deeply felt movement, paradise is palpable, with pain sometimes involved.

Will Scott, his lanky figure in the shadows, drawls his original romantic folk/blues songs. The muddled ballads of lost love are interspersed with tinny pop as varied as The Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,’” and songs by the Cocteau Twins, The Supremes, Stevie Nicks and Autechre.

The music provides both contrast and inspiration for this energetic, expressionist dance. Stripped to their vulnerable centers, the topless Isadora Wolfe is glamorous dancing with Alexander Gish in matching pinstriped pants. Big, brash, blonde Hilary Clark, in a plus-size teddy, bares her soul with cool panache. Victoria Anderson’s bulbous black plastic-coated briefs are ridiculously flattering. David Quinn’s fab costume designs are as integral to the dance theater as are Scott’s mournful serenades.

There is virtually no décor except for the costumes that create changing tableaux. Jay Ryan’s lighting effectively creates pockets of shadow for Scott and the dancers to recede into. But occasionally the light glares beyond the shallow stage into the audience’s first row.

In WET’s quaint old space, you might expect creaks and thumps but the movement is silent and powerful. Marie Rambert notes in her autobiography that London’s intimate Mercury Theatre “required special virtuosity to make no noise whatsoever.”

Marcotty-Dolenga’s is the first evening in Parker’s series devoted to a single choreographer. Normally, several artists are engaged for each dance program in this venue for theatrical performance. Parker and The Bang Group have been in residence at WET since 2003.

In Marcotty-Dolenga’s autoerotic duet for two steamy poseurs, the paradise strategists may be standing at heavens gate. Clark balances in a chair and Anderson lolls at her feet. In desperation, they reach out with their bodies to be noticed but it’s as if there’s a mirror at the fourth wall.

The athletic Gish’s series of turns en l’aire are pure joy. His gestures in a duet with Clark pull at the heartstrings. She gnashes her teeth and bites the heel of her hand. In an aside, he draws us in to empathize. In another duet, Luke Miller’s fingers inch toward Gish’s back. Miller lays hands on him without touching. Slowly, imperceptibly, Gish turns to embrace him. This gentle “pas” is one of the most riveting moments of the evening.

A quartet presented is so utterly musical it needs no other rationale. Each dancer seems in his or her own orbit. Wolfe reels drunkenly in a backbend, but she’s stretched in total control. Clark is like an unstoppable mechanical doll stalking Miller. Standing behind, he lifts her off the ground inciting a riot of flailing arms and legs. The kinetic formation of the two could be Shiva at his wit’s end.

Partners swap in two bedrolls. They drag each other across the stage and after tossing and turning fitfully, finding contentment as same-sex bedfellows. The well-known “Mattress Suite,” Larry Keigwin’s autobiographical coming-out story, comes to mind. Marcotty-Dolenga’s “paradise strategy” is a romp in the sheets that finds comfort in identities. It satisfies sensually and viscerally, even as it leaves itself open to interpretation.

In a solo, Miller flaps the open cuffs of his sheer, silver lamé shirt. Like a wonderfully strange bird he bounds backward like a human pogo stick to the Cocteau Twins.

In the end, everyone looks angelic in yet another costume change. Like an apparition, Anderson walks backward into the dark and Miller is alone and vulnerable at the edge of the stage. Before she goes she catches his head between her hands, leaving him both stabilized and fortified.

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