Gaspard&Dancers, a new contemporary dance company, debuted in Duke University’s Reynolds Industries Theater to a large and enthusiastic crowd on Sunday night. Founder and artistic director Gaspard Louis, who is also director of the American Dance Festival’s outreach program, presented five of his own dances, two of which were premieres. The eight-member ensemble was augmented by three guest dancers.
Louis is a former Pilobolus dancer (1996-2001), and his choreography is decidedly Pilobolean in tone and often in imagery. Yet, generally, it is more fluid and lyrical, and each dance included delicately beautiful designs for the arm and hand along with the larger shape-building within the unbounded energy flow. There is little of crisis or resolution in this work, little sense of beginning or end — rather a sense that we are witnessing a few minutes of something circling, cyclical, that had been going on without us and that will continue behind our backs.
This was particularly the case with Anemone, the new work that opened the program. Under soft, even, colored lighting by Rich Kless and Paul Kartcheske, the unitard-clad dancers rolled gently onto the stage as if rolling through green water over the seabed. Eventually, they stood up and floated through many unfurling and waving motions to Danny Maheu’s dreamy music. It was very pretty.
Chrysalis (2003) is perhaps a little bit literal, but it has some excellent sections and clever image-making. It begins with two groups of three dancers wrapped in large sheets of white Lycra to form sculptures. The sculptures begin to twist and move, with a face or hand or other part suddenly pressing outward momentarily in an unsettling and thrilling way. Later the cloth is well-used to form the wings of butterflies.
The program closed with Innercurrent, from 2002, which Louis choreographed with Donna Scro. This early work was, interestingly, less Pilobolean than the newer pieces. To my eye, this was both the freshest and the most worked-out of the dances. Its many beautiful sequences, both of graceful, exuberant, dance and of structural partnering, were greatly enhanced by Melody Eggen’s costumes in rich browns and oranges. Of the five dances, only Innercurrent achieved a sense of resolution, completion, in its design, and it got to that resolution in a very interesting way.
The evening also included a duet, Deux, which might have been more impressive with more experienced dancers. The solo Kenbe Pa Lage failed to arouse much interest, even though dancer Anjanée N. Bell is strong and graceful — she didn’t have enough to do. Louis’ strength as a choreographer seems to lie in his group work.
It is bold and daring to form a dance company at any time, but in these times, it is particularly so. The concert felt like a big early Christmas present: it has been a long while since we had a resident performing dance company in Durham. Gaspard&Dancers is not a world-class company yet — but we may get to watch it become one.