In reviewing Moving Ethos Dance Company for the past two years, I have admired various aspects of their enertaining and educative approach -- their play with different genres and geographies, their willingness to incorporate text and video, their attempts to make the world of contemporary dance a more comprehensible and alluring activity for their audiences.
But it wasn't until about halfway through "Exhibit ME," a sampler of old and new work the company presented as their fall concert this weekend, that I realized what, for me, sets this group apart. I'm just not quite sure what to call it.
It's not mime, gesture, theatrics, nor patently visible emotion -- but at the same time, it is all of these. There is something so unsophisticatedly human in each of their movements, that the message subsumes the dance. You can instantly relate, even if you have no clue about the deeper intent of the work.
Someone whose emotions are easily readable is said to wear their heart on their sleeve; these dancers seem to wear their whole psychological makeup in the lift of an eyebrow, the flip of a shoulder, or the casually rough drag of a foot while stepping over a body on the floor. Often this is funny, sometimes it is painful and occasionally it is intentionally brutal, in the way delivering a "Dear John" by text would be.
Two of the six works performed on the short but pithy program had been presented before -- "Passing Parallells", created by Smith Inzalaco in 2006, two years before the company formally coalesced; and "Upward Panic," a piece choreographer Karl Rogers created for Smith Inzalaco and Verier-Dunn that debuted last spring. The contrast was illustrative of the troupe's continuing evolution and growing maturity of expression.
"Parallels" was a dancier number, focusing on female interactions, but void of the impact of "Panic," in which Smith Inzalaco and Verier-Dunn ran a gamut of emotions -- deviousness, boredom, laissez-faire and, of course, panic -- on a set that included two acquamarine desks, two pairs of red heels and a soundtrack of Doris Day singing "Que Sera, Sera" and the harsh march of a manuel typewriter.
Melissa Lodhi, Ethos' board director and head of dance at Booker High School, created a work unlike any of hers I had seen previously, and all the stronger for it. "Object of Affection," danced by Jennifer Maecker, Smith Inzalaco, Keely Sullivan Henry, and a vogue-ing Verier- Dunn in black bra and briefs in the background, drew on the objectification of women -- both by others and on themselves. In that Moving Ethos' way, it was both funny and disturbing, and, above all, a frustrating indictment of women's inability to break from engrained and unhealthy roles.
Jen Archibald, a New York choreographer, debuted "Under the Leaves," a hip hop/modern trio for Smith Inzalaco, Verier-Dunn and the company's newest member, tall, braided-haired Kris Powell. A pendulum (or was it a boxing bag?) that swung across the stage, slowing as the dance continued, indicated the passage of time, but the powerful punch delivered as it stilled indicated not much more than frustration.
Powell's powerful hip hop/crump/ solo "Tell Me What You See," revealed exactly the type of gestural authenticity I was looking for -- his body moved from within as if possessed.
The greatest praise goes to an excerpt from a work commissioned by the Selby Botanical Gardens that will appear on-site there next February, "Gardens of Grandeur." The piece included and was inspired by a dance/text snippet about gardening from Ethos' spring concert in which the word "moist" becomes almost an emetic. To this segment has been added a humorous solo by Maecker, neurotically tending a small platform of lush green grass to perfection and a vicious relationship détente between Sullivan Henry and Verier-Dunn in which flowers, the usual symbols of love, become weapons, leaving the stage strewn with broken petals.
So many moments of pure humanity captured so simply, without pretension or self indulgence -- that is Moving Ethos' forte and I look forward to where they take the rest of us on their next emotional journey.