The nEW Festival's public stage performances launched Wednesday night at the Drake Theater with two programs, displays of brilliant dancing and a strong array of interpretations of a single work.
Share, a witty dance-theater piece loosely based on the notions of truth and falsity by Philadelphia's Gabrielle Revlock, led off the first program, accompanied by a Jon Barrios electronic soundscape that included a sly weather reading somewhere between Gregorian chant and barbershop quartet. Bonnie Friel and Gregory Holt made up a trio with Revlock, using theatrical tricks like lip-synching to expose false impressions, though Revlock's title didn't synch with the dance.
Second were Eun Jung Choi-Gonzalez and her partner, Guillermo Ortega Tanus, in Blue Print. They danced in plastic raincoats, stripped them off, then re-dressed from the pile of stuff that tumbled from the fly. Tanus, a terrific dancer (as were all the evening's performers), seemed to be wrestling with his superego and losing.
In the second program, four of the 20 soloists who "commissioned" a dance from Bessie Award-winning choreographer Deborah Hay presented their separate versions. They traveled to Findhorn, Scotland, last summer to learn I'll Crane for You from Hay, each practicing an artistic frame daily for three months, then, for an additional month, beginning the actual adaptation.
Hay was once called "a master of high silliness," and her choreography inspired the lovely French dancer Marielle Hocdet's take as a moronic, rubber-legged barnyard fowl. Never stooping to peck, she did let out a few entirely un-French squawks, mais oui, in good voice. She buried her head in a nest of netting, and found a ball covered in a scarf. In jeans and boots, she wobbled her ankles loosely, went bow-legged, S-curved her torso, strutted, and blew raspberries from her air-filled cheeks. She kicked the ball away - or was it a chick out of the nest? Adorable!
Funnier still was Davina Cohen, who crawled up onto the stage from the side entrance under a crinkly pink-and-green paper tarp, finally creeping out from under it like a chick from its shell. Her green dress and peacock-feathered anklets were by Deborah Black, who danced in the next version.
Black started wearing corsets and high heels in November to get into the dance, and added a black-satin strapless sheath for the performance. I'd have liked to have seen emerald opera gloves streaking up her arms for a more birdlike effect, but Black was a dark and wicked cockatiel. Both she and Cohen made for very unexpected cranes.
But Melanie Stewart, the festival's producer, was the bird of the night - think Firebird, not Dying Swan. Heidi Barr costumed her in a stunning ensemble of a sheer, putty-color, off-the-shoulder dress girdled by an opulent feathered bustier barely covering her breasts. Her hair upswept in French curls cascading down between her shoulder blades, Stewart was ravishing, drawing gasps from the audience as she entered.
She allowed herself some of the dark and raunchy moments that have often characterized her work over the last two decades here. She put "Blood on the Table," as Hay had directed and as the program of solos was called, taking the entire audience with her as she looked off into the distance at some horrific vision, her arm rising to defy it or fend it off.
Then, in a split second she dropped the arm and the horror, breaking into a giggly Ava Gardner smile. The audience's relieved laughter suggested we might be the pigeons eating out of the palm of her hand. As did all the soloists, she went up into the audience at the end, asking shyly, "Is it good?"