Chris Elam and Misnomer Dance Theater’s Intimacy In Transition opened at P.S. 122 on Thursday, December 11th. Elam, known for his whimsical, Balinese inspired choreography, has created an enchanting evening consisting of six different dances.
Elam’s dancers all possess extraordinary grace and athleticism, and his choreography pushes them not just physically, but emotionally as well. Each performer seems to be deeply invested in the characters behind the dance, and in this way the work has an immediacy and presence that makes the experience even more special.
Several themes recur throughout the evening. In Our Town Elam uses four women (Abbey Dehnert, Jennifer Harmer, Eliza Littrell and Laura Pocius) as an ensemble, evoking images of small-town life and referencing the themes and aesthetic of Thornton Wilder’s play of the same name. In a subsequent piece, Maggie and George, Elam and Abbey Dehnert do some wonderful work with what appear to be picture frames. The use of the frames allows them to create a sense of portraiture, as if bringing the painting American Gothic to life, or alternately using them as windows – bringing to mind the ladder scene between George and Emily in Wilder’s Our Town. These images of Americana play off the athletic choreography and attenuated movements to create that is both homespun and exotic.
Elam’s Balinese influence reveals itself most clearly in his solo, Tin Man and in the fantastical Ten Feet. In Tin Man Elam distorts his elongated body into any number of extraordinary poses. Even his face becomes a landscape of movement as his expressions widen as if possessed by a fearsome spirit. He makes excellent use of vocalized breathing as part of the character and the overall effect of the piece is otherworldy. So, too, in Ten Feet where the entire ensemble takes the stage garbed in red wool headresses with tufts running down their backs, like the back of an alligator or a dinosaur. They move in a pack and then separate, performing a series of different variations and combinations. I wanted to call them “crazy monkey people”, but that’s not really apropos. They were more like creatures from Where The Wild Things Are, but red. It was very fun and, in spots, funny.
Closing the evening is a playful duet featuring Abbey Dehnert and Amber Sloan entitled Dreams of Your Acceptance. The two entwine and disengage as restless sleepers fitfully sharing a bed. The connection of the performers is obvious as they play with each other, first competing in movement, then playing off of each other, creating variation. While I know the piece was meticulously choreographed, the performers brought a sense of novelty to it that made it seem spontaneous and free-form, like jazz.
At the end of the evening the audience was very enthusiastic – as they should have been.
Intimacy In Transition was a really rewarding evening of dance and Elam is a choreographer to watch. He has engaged many talented collaborators from the musicians who created the evening’s excellent score, to the costume designers, to his ensemble of gifted dancers. It will be interesting to see where Elam goes as a choreographer as he continues to mature and deepen.