Patterns of a Summer Night, to the Strains of Jazz, Tango or Gospel

Dance | Dance Review | Central Park SummerStage
By GIA KOURLAS

In Central Park: Members of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performing in “Still Present,” created by Gina Walther in homage to the troupe’s founder. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times.

In Central Park: Members of the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company performing in “Still Present,” created by Gina Walther in homage to the troupe’s founder. Credit Michael Nagle for The New York Times.

Viewing dance at Central Park SummerStage is a little like watching television through the window of your neighbor’s apartment. If the faraway stage doesn’t pop with vigorous, athletic choreography, the point is rendered murky. And there lies the challenge of bringing original dance to the masses.

On Friday night at Rumsey Playfield, Nathan Trice’s Rituals, a relatively young group, shared the program with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, which was founded in 1968 by the visionary director Jeraldyne Blunden. For Mr. Trice, who formed his dance-theater company in 1998, there was a sprinkling of legible moments in “Strange Love,” a new work inspired by film noir, the pulse of urban life and jazz music.

Separated into three sections, this dance, for four couples, began as dusk was setting in. Women — each wearing a different shade of green, red, gold or peach — stood in front of the men, identically dressed in crisply formal white pants and shirts. With robotic jerks, the couples froze their bodies into stiff positions, the men and women staring at each other in shock and bewilderment. These poses undoubtedly had to do with Mr. Trice’s interest in film noir, but at such a distance, the performers looked like zombies.

Each scene opened with silence, followed by a jazz recording (John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett, Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea). Mr. Trice was most successful when his choreography allowed the dancers individual space to find abandon within the enthralling music. But the repetitive setup — silence, then music — and the overlong pauses between sections were anticlimactic and perplexing. While Mr. Trice moves bodies with logic, he places more emphasis on movement patterns than on steps; “Strange Love” was both too uniform and missing something integral in its desire to be eccentric.

The esteemed Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, based in Ohio and now led by Debbie Blunden-Diggs, the founder’s daughter, presented four works, beginning with “Still Present” from 2008. Created by Gina Walther in homage to Jeraldyne Blunden, who died in 1999, the dance served as a sparkling introduction to the troupe.

Wearing Maurita Elam’s yellow-and-gray ensembles, seven dancers performed to music by Marlena Shaw, Shirley Horn and Dizzy Gillespie. The second movement, set to Horn’s “Here’s to Life,” was the heart of this stirring dance, and Marlayna Locklear, in a poignant solo, stood out for her rigorous simplicity.

The other works fell into clichés, beginning with Shonna Hickman-Matlock’s “Unresolved,” from 2002, which featured a couple with little chemistry, a pair of chairs and too much empty yearning. Excerpts from “Milonga!,” a work by William B. McClellan Jr. in its New York premiere, energetically displayed aspects of the tango, though black costumes against a black backdrop concealed choreographic details.

And “In My Father’s House,” a 2007 dance by Ms. Blunden-Diggs, owed its most lucid moments to Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations.” Set to gospel music by Kirk Franklin and the Family, the rambling work was full of kneeling and swooning bodies, yet in the end, its feverish pitch offered little in the way of glorification.

Source: www.nytimes.com