NEW YORK - Suspicion is aroused when the composer of any serious endeavor has changed his last name to "TV": In places like the Whitney Museum of American Art, it can smell of empty novelty. Yet there was nothing insubstantial about
the program of works performed Wednesday in the museum's glassed-in Altria Gallery lobby with 42d Street as a backdrop. In a collaboration with Philadelphia's Miro Dance Theatre and Prism Saxophone Quartet, Dutch composer Jacob TV (ne Jacob Ter Veldhuis) molded a sophisticated, urban artistic language with much to say on matters ranging from Billie Holiday to nuclear winter.
One hesitates to predict whether audiences will "like" the subsequent performances, offered this afternoon at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and tomorrow at Montgomery County Community College. But that's not what anybody seems to be after in these works full of healthy provocation, involving a soundtrack peppered with street language recorded on site (some of which will be bleeped out in Philadelphia), radio interviews with Holiday talking about the blues, and the saxophone quartet performing tough, fat-free music.
If there was a haven of lightness and softness in this abstract yet not oblique program, it was Amanda Miller's choreography for the Miro dancers: Much of it was everyday movements with a level of synchronization not often found in nature, and a levity that came when dancers dueted with taped street scenes shown on four grainy video monitors. Eclectic in the spirit of composer TV, one Miller moment might suggest tai chi next to another that jitterbugged.
Many of the seven works were anchored by rhythms drawn from the recorded speech tracks; if music and dance played off the content of the words, you couldn't tell - the sound system and lobby acoustics made those portions sound like ship-to-shore telephone. TV's music is eventful and eclectic, incorporating jazz influences in "Billie," and starting "Jesus Is Coming" with TV's own mutation of the Dies Irae chant incorporating a recorded vocal track that sounded like Tom Waits in great pain.
The program's best moments were in the contemplative "Postnuclear Winterscenario No. 10," in which consonant saxophone chords were emphatically stated, framed in silences, but with the chords' inner voices drifting increasingly far afield, morphing into an ostinato that powered the music's forward progression.
Amid this, Miller's choreography began with dancers washing in and out of the performing space like waves on the shore. Thereafter, they literally ascended: A single dancer walked slowly up the others' bodies, from hips to shoulders, before collapsing. Such a series of poetic moments, suggesting so many things. Is it the arrogance of humanity in denial that constantly seeks higher ground to escape encroaching disaster? The transcendence of, well, you name it?