Friday night saw the premiere of an intriguing new work by ShaLeigh Comerford for her small, mutable company, ShaLeigh Dance Works as part of the first Durham Independent Dance Artists (DIDA) season. Aló will repeat May 2 in a large, handsome room in The Reality Center.
Comerford is a versatile dance artist who teaches at Elon University, as well as at two of Durham's non-ADF studios (two of her current dancers also teach at Ninth Street Dance). She has studied Israeli choreograher Ohad Naharin's Gaga dance and teaches her version, ShaGa, as well as ballet, and both of these forms – so very different in their desires – fuel her own choreography in what she calls "socially-conscious dance theater" works. Although she leads, the dances develop in collaboration with the dancers.
Aló concerns the common human longing to connect with others and to hide from them. Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Aló is the inclusion of aggression on both sides of that balanced equation describing human habit.
The room at the Reality Center is a spacious, high-ceilinged rectangle, and the seating is arranged in a large oval in its center, where the dance takes place in very close proximity to the audience. Sometimes the dancers join the audience for a bit; sometimes (pre-chosen) audience members join the dancers briefly. The boundary is permeable. The dance is lit by six sets of three small footlights and the fading dusk, suffusing the window wall. This lighting, along with the trancy score by Mike Wall and two Italian songs sung by Renee La Schiazza and Ryan James Monroe, produce a dreamlike quality that informs one's reception of the dance.
The work begins with a kind of prologue as the audience settles. Majid Bastani, in black trousers and a loose white shirt, and Dana Livermore, in a simple black dress with a rich pink underskirt, move through a lively dance of interest and love. It's vaguely Latin and very sensual, with much body contact and lovely swirling. The dancers often touch each other's faces.
The sweet prologue gives way to a flashing sword dance by Bastani, that like the rest of the piece, combines writhing freedom with extreme precision. Slowly, carefully, the other dancers begin to walk around the slashing, quivering sword and its exacting master. There's danger in the glittering blade and danger's ineluctable magnetism.
Bastani puts down his sword; he and the other male dancer, Martin Sueldo, begin crawling, rubbing the floor, as the three women flow freely around them. Then Sueldo rises to entice(?) or capture(?) Nicola Bullock. He enfolds her, then in an action that resonates around the room, he knocks gently on her chest. Is this danger or is it ecstasy, and is there a difference?
A babble of language arises from the group, word sounds without known meanings. There are aggressions – hugs that are grabs – and escapes. Protective enclosures morph into aggressions, which are rebuffed by twining bodies and fluttering hands. The group kneels together, laughing. Suddenly laughter becomes a fierce, martial, synchronized breathing, and the babbling escalates into grievance, which is balanced by Renee La Schiazza's rendition of Pergolesi's "Se tu m'ami, se sospiri," with its gentle taunt, and Nicki Miller's lovely, reaching, arabesques.
This section establishes all the themes of Aló, which are further developed in a flowing series of combinations, some quite surprising, all a bit mysterious to the mind but understandable to the watching bodies of the audience. The dance as a whole has a most satisfying formal balance, as themes and variations spiral around to a conclusion that posits connection to others as a more powerful desire in humans than that for separateness. Two couples spoon on the floor, as the search continues past lights out for Nicki Miller. Turning, extending, her cupped hands reach for love, and her arabesques trail the scent of longing.
Aló repeats tonight only, but ShaLeigh Dance Works will be included in the American Dance Festival's Here and Now: NC Dances program on June 25. Dedicated to [ ] because of [ ] (and vice versa) will include actor Derrick Ivey as well as the dance company. Tickets for that will go on sale May 11. The final presentation of the DIDA season will occur June 5-7, when Renay Aumiller Dances premieres Blood Moon. For details of the May 2 repeat, see the sidebar. For information about DIDA's final performances this season, click here.