For the third time in five years, native daughter Wendy Whelan has performed in Louisville. This time in the co-production, “Some of a Thousand Words.”
The piece was co-commissioned by the Kentucky Center together with The Joyce Theater, the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond, and the International Festival of Arts and Ideas where it received its world premiere last summer.
Whelan and choreographer and dancer Brian Brooks (also Whelan’s collaborator for 2015’s “Restless Creature”) this time partner with contemporary chamber quartet Brooklyn Rider for a compact, intense evening of movement and music, each informing and shaping the other.
Whelan and Brooks are uncannily matched in form and movement; he slightly taller, she a bit more slight, yet their kinesthetic connection is palpable in the first movement (music by Jacob Cooper.) Whether the matched and mirrored movement is a slight roll of a shoulder or a full body sweeping movement, their bodies, affect, and attitude are impeccably matched; perhaps Whelan’s extensions are more full and graceful.
As the movement shifts to echoing rather than synchronous movement sequences, Whelan’s and Brooks’ connection displays differently but generates equal fascination as he effortlessly drops into movement sequences that she has established.
Having established a physical vocabulary in the first movement, iterations of those phrases are repeated and morphed throughout the remaining three movements, both in duet and solo mode. There is a fascination with the tension between extension and collapse in Brooks’ choreography that both builds on Whelan’s classical experience and pushes beyond those expectations. This, of course, is most fully explored in the final movement of the evening, an expanded version of “First Fall” which is equally impressive two years after first viewing.
A lighter sequence is the one in which two chairs are employed, bringing more options of levels into an evening of choreography that is clearly a grounded experience.
A motif of this piece was Whelan standing on the chair, Brooks moving into the chair – barely within eye contact – just in time to catch Whelan as she angled into a fall. Yet another example of the kinesthetic connection between these two performers.
It is always a bonus to have live music, and in this performance, the players of Brooklyn Rider are on stage as well. Cellist Michael Norris began the evening solo with Cooper’s “Arches.” And for subsequent movements was joined by Nicholas Cords (viola,) and violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen. Jacobsen composed the third movement; additional composers were John Luther Adams, Tyondai Braxton ad Philip Glass.
Karen Young’s costume design showed Whelan and Brooks in what seems to be the current “uniform” of contemporary dance: variations of jeans and tank tops. Joe Lavasseur’s lighting was almost the third character of the evening. Subtle, and moving with the dancers, the illumination and shadow supported their connectedness in a sophisticated approach that Louisville dance audiences rarely see.
This was the final program of this season of Kentucky Center dance programming. Pilobolus, Alonzo King Lines, and Whelan and Brooks collectively are significant contributors to the current dance landscape. Here’s hoping that the Kentucky Center will bring more exemplars of contemporary dance to Louisville audiences next season.