Small staged performances have a certain allure that's hard to find on the big stage. Perhaps it's the tiny barrier between performer and artist. Or maybe there's no such thing as an intimate crowd. DiverseWorks has everything a repertory buff could ever want. The warehouse-converted-into-art-space is somewhat out of the way, barely on the cusp of downtown. Outside walls are muraled with dancers' silhouettes, and inside, the faded, black-painted stage is spare.
For the modern-dance lover, this kind of intimacy and bare-bones ambiance can't be beat. Sans glitz, live music, sets or expense of any kind, no artifice can interfere with the main attraction -- the dancer herself. DiverseWorks was a good place to take in the highly experimental Out of Our Skin, performed last weekend by Weave, a relatively new modern-dance company. Despite the show's occasionally off-the-wall and uneven choreography, the dancing was graceful, vigorous, and at times, delightfully funny.
"Choke," the opener, offered a series of expressions of love lost. And for the hard-core ballet lover, "Choke" was also true to its title, as if to say, "We're going to feed you a dose of something you've never seen before just to see if you can take it." It featured at least five movements that were deliberately disjointed, starting with a somber, darkly lit and very brief pas de deux in which Maria Montes de Oca rotated slowly on flat feet carrying Juliet Hicks's tightly clasped body over her shoulder.
Following was a lively pas de six featuring all the Weavers hopping around in funky striped and polka-dotted knickers to the rhythm of ... not music, but individually chanted lines from the odes of Robert Fulghum, Pablo Neruda and the dancers themselves. This was a fanciful show of upbeat feminine solidarity. In "Choke," choreographer Hicks's unusual, nonballetic string of movements obviously ranged from celebratory to sad, but perceiving a central theme throughout the piece proved to be difficult.
Ironically, Weave started to sizzle during "Without Words," a mostly traditional, highly balletic pas de trois danced to the string and piano folk melodies of Alberto Ginastera and Antonin Dvorak. Bonnie Boykin Busker's choreography was refreshingly new, but still old-fashioned enough to give the crowd something to identify with. This number was performed on the heels of "Choke," and if the audience's roar indicated a dance-style preference, they'll take a sonnet over free verse any day. Busker, clad in an olive green tank and a double-slit black miniskirt, was flanked behind by Hicks and Montes de Oca, both of whom stood completely still with their backs to Busker. Busker gave the audience what they came for, a memorable solo of kicks, pirouettes and complicated twirls worthy of any Wortham crowd. Busker's show was titillating; she never missed a step in her bare legs and feet.
The show was also enhanced by the gravity-defying "How Light Must Dreams Themselves Be." Weave co-founder Jennifer Lawson choreographed this pas de trois, carried out while Lawson, Busker and Montes de Oca hung in midair, for God's sake, suspended from the ceiling by bungee cords. Moving slowly in and out of vertical and horizontal freezes in midair, this threesome pulled off the dreaminess evoked by accompanying new age melodies of Green Isac and Tulku. This unique spectacle was itself worth the price of a ticket.
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The night's concluding "Jubilee" was a delight at first, but seemed to lose steam as it developed, either for lack of rehearsal of the last two numbers, or the sheer difficulty of some of the more bizarre dance movements. Seattle choreographer and Weave mentor Llory Wilson has juxtaposed an amazing variety of forms here. Whether they conform to a generally accepted notion of "dance" is a different question. To many, the first movement was the most satisfying, a cute variation on Southern swing in which pairs alternated to the jitterbug. The piece concluded with two gymnastically difficult movements that required feats of strength as dancers repeatedly lifted or dragged partners across the stage. After heaving one another through the whole show, though, it's not surprising that this got a little tiresome for the dancers as the evening wore on. The overall effect of "Jubilee" appeared to be under-rehearsed, or perhaps too demanding to be chosen as the finale.
Each number from Out of Our Skin featured a different choreographer. This proved to be a strength and a weakness. At times, the choreography got so far-fetched that the dancers looked like they were just running around on stage.
To Weave's credit, such unabashed choreographic variety is the mark of an interesting dance troupe. Collectively or singly, this group is quite capable of crossing the divide between traditional and modern, serious and funny. But their real challenge will be meeting the technical and theatrical demands of such disparate styles of choreography.
Weave Dance Company performs at the Texas Contemporary Dance Festival, October 23, 8 p.m. at Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive, in Hermann Park. Free. Call 520-3290 for more information.