Bebe Miller's best dances are at once physically engulfing and layered with insights: social portraits defined through the relationships between dancers.
Her style proves distinctly contemporary in its incorporation of everything from gymnastically daring contact improvisation to pedestrian motion to the disarmingly elegant pointed toe. The attack remains propulsive and nonstop--but the issues in question emerge in high relief.
In "Allies," introduced locally on Friday at Royce Hall, UCLA, Miller suggests a more hopeful view of human contact than in "The Hell Dances," her full-evening study of incompatibility. Here, all the shifting linkups between individuals, the confrontations and manipulations, result in bonding.
There are trios exploring contrasting male and female energies (and don't assume that the women come off looking lyrical). There's a romantic duet between Renee Lemiux and Jeremy Weichsel that begins in secret--behind one of Robert Flynt's three billboard-size paintings on gauze--but grows strong enough to survive inspection by the others. And there's a final statement of solidarity in which group acceptance becomes total, unthinking and a kind of armor.
A throbbing score by Fred Frith helps sustain the pressure, but the investment of Miller's six-member cast makes her meanings explicit. As they ricochet from one intense, intimate encounter to another, these artists show how all relationships--between friends, family, workers no less than between lovers--reflect the same needs and strategies.
In its antic standoffs and cozy images of togetherness (including, midway through, a company dress code), the familiar "Thick Sleep" offers a dream-reflection/reduction of the themes shaping "Allies." This time, however, the vocabulary stays gestural, the phrases brief and blunt, the emphasis upon playful discontinuity: body-squiggles of great difficulty (sometimes) but limited long-term satisfaction.
Lenny Pickett's blaring score and the costumes of Amy Downs (patches of color over black) brighten this scherzo to near-florescence but the cast's dynamism looks impersonal. Indeed, with its focus upon spatial/movement/costume design, "Thick Sleep" doesn't really need people; its bold, flat imagery and clever switcheroos would lose nothing in an animated cartoon.
Completing the program, Miller's solo "Rain" finds her on or near a central platform of green turf, expressing her connection to the earth as an act of discovery. The isolation of the patch of green in an otherwise empty, dark space heightens the strangeness of the solo--as does the lush, crimson gown that Miller wears. We are seeing someone coming to terms with realities understood but never experienced: an encounter full of tension and longing.
Although arguably too small in scale for Royce Hall, "Rain" potently reaffirms several primal tenets in modern dance: the floor as the cradle of movement, personal growth as the essential subject of choreography.
San DIEGO PERFORMANCE: Bebe Miller & Company will perform Friday and Saturday at the EducationalCultural Complex, sponsored by Sushi Performance Gallery.