The Setup: Dance Month at the Kaplan Theatre is an annual celebration that includes master classes from national touring troupes, Israeli folk dance workshops, a professional concert of Houston choreographers and a showcase of the city's top pre-professional companies. Dance Month always concludes with the presentation of a national company of distinguished artistry. This year the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company took the Kaplan Theatre stage on the afternoon of February 3 and performed two repertory works alongside a larger piece by Doug Elkins.
The Execution: The program opened with Dorfman's Keystone, a duet performed by Jacqueline Dumas Albert and Louie Martin and set to a familiar track list of Rufus Wainwright's "Hallelujah," Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and Jamie Randolph's "White Christmas." The title of the dance refers to the uppermost stone of an arch that holds the rest of the structure in place. The dance begins with Albert and Martin leaning into each other, heads on shoulders, creating a literal representation of the architectural feature.
Weight sharing is heavily at play here, and the technique makes for some beautiful and inspired partnering work. Moments of significance include Martin in flight, landing with his hips on Albert's lower back and then diving into a somersault, and a cartwheel by Martin off the shoulders of his partner. The work here is intricate, but not forced, perfectly underlying the comic and more serious themes of long-lasting relationships.
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The Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company also performs work by outside choreographers; Doug Elkin's Narcoleptic Lovers made for an exciting departure in content and style. This large ensemble piece plays off the assumed relationship between music and movement, that the former dictates the vocabulary of the latter. But here such a binary is subverted as Elkin's fuses hip-hop, capoeira, street dancing, and MMA fighting stances with classical movement.
The choreography is completely unexpected, especially during segments when it is accompanied by excerpts from Mozart's Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute. There is also an underlying exploration of how men and women should dance onstage, as women taken on athletic, boxer-like warrior position and men snap their fingers and pop their hips. Narcoleptic Lovers seems to be saying that it doesn't matter how or what you dance to, the important thing is to just dance. As insightful as this investigation is, however, I wouldn't mind if it were a tad bit shorter, especially during its second half.
The program also included Cat's Cradle, Dorfman's rumination of life in the Theresienstadt ghetto. This is a difficult dance to watch. Difficult in the sense that I feel it must be viewed with a sense of context that goes beyond the program notes. The dancers recreate scenes from life in the ghetto, including knitting, potato peeling and lessons in a children's classroom. I found much of the movement appropriately disconcerting to the reality of Theresienstadt, a place where 100,000 Jews lived an imitation of life before deportation to Auschwitz, especially during a sequence when the company dances like manic marionettes operating in forced tandem. But some of the theatrical elements proved to be a bit of a distraction. I wanted to enter the grim scenario the choreography was implying, but the props and the acting sequences kept reminding me that what I was seeing was just that, a scenario.
The Verdict: Watching the three dances that were presented, I couldn't help but note that the choreography of the Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company was not as compelling as the movement quality of its dancers. Even in the most inaccessible moments of Cat's Craddle or during the lulls of the second half of Narcoleptic Lovers, I was touched by the refined, yet, grounded work of the company. It was their unified commitment to the work and shared sense of detailed musicality and storytelling that has me wanting to see more of the Dorfman repertoire.