The Scottish Dance Theater’s Drift, a duet, was the talk of last year’s American Dance Festival season. Only attendees of the special gala saw the performance, but they talked about it all summer. The SDT brings it to the big stage in the Durham Performing Arts Center as part of their program in a two-night appearance this year. Drift is deeply emotional and madly thrilling — and it’s the light relief in the middle of the three-work concert.
Unusual honesty marks all this work — honesty expressed directly in a vital physical style rich in nuance and controlled power. The magnificent, elastic dancing draws on many sources, including, I think, the ecstatic repetitions of West African styles, and the core-driven freedom of Ohad Nahrin’s Gaga, in addition to popular street styles and classic modern dance techniques. It is a rich, sensuous brew, not lacking in ideas, but ready to short-circuit your brain so you can receive them through your body.
Kate Weare’s Lay Me Down Safe blew my mental breakers in the first minutes, getting right down to what the best dance does best: It brings experience and understanding through the body and its senses. When the lights came up at the end of this eight-dancer exposé of love and danger, I felt like a selkie caught outside my sealskin — unprotected, revealed; muscle, bone and skin tingling with sensation. Much of this magic is worked with the choreography, which struck me as profoundly female, but the entire visual is important, and of course, the dark, rhythmic music mix (including Nouvelle Vague, Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen). Both the backdrops and the costumes — tunics over skirts — are in shades of warm greys, which change in emotional value when the lighting alternates between sidelights and shadow-casting footlights. All the elements combine to create an atmosphere where tender safety and casual obliteration exist in the same moment — just as in the “real” world.
Light is also a powerful force in the fierce Drift, finding the two dancers whether they are on the floor or spiraling through the air. The tension builds to an almost unbearable level: this dance not just about high-risk relationships, it is high risk. The dancers’ daring and trust intoxicate the viewer. The score here is “The Package,” by A Perfect Circle, and “Eraser,” by Nine Inch Nails.
The evening concludes with Hofesh Shechter’s Dog, which brings us back to the edge of the verbal world. Witty and clever, with many amusing references (the music mix mashed up by Shechter is full of them) and voice-over comments, the work is more or less about evolution. (ADF audiences who saw Keigwin + Company will want to mentally compare this vision of the situation with Larry Keigwin’s Natural Selection.) Dog opens naturally enough with a man as a dog, a smiling dog, looking around mid-stage. It is funny — he really looks like a dog — and that image, that imagining of dog-ness, sets the empathetic tone of the work. Schechter bars no holds and holds with no hierarchies here: He talks; he mixes his musical metaphors; he has the dancers down on the floor, up in the air and moving in masses in the upright in-between. The massed dancing was most wonderful in its full-bodied freedom, and this Dog made me feel much better about the possible future evolution of species.
This program by the Scottish Dance Theatre repeats June 23. See our sidebar for details.