Battleworks Dance Company

‘Alleluia,’ 'Takademe,’ ‘The Hunt,’ ‘Rush Hour,’ ‘Mood Indigo,’ and ‘Strange Humors’

by S.E. Arnold

July 10-13, 2003 -- Doris Duke Studio Theatre at Jacob's Pillow, MA

As if to celebrate the arrival of his newborn company, artistic director Robert Battle opened the Battleworks Dance Company concert given in the Doris Duke Theatre at Jacob's Pillow with 'Alleluia.'

Set on three male and four female dancers wearing white, clerical looking costumes, the mood, movement, and choice of Baroque music -- J. S. Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti -- of 'Alleluia,' choreographed by Battle in 2002, echo the mood, movement, and music of Paul Taylor's 'Esplanade.' Respectfully irreverent, the work shapes pedestrian movement, such as running and a host of worshipful gestures ranging from clasped hands to shaking and foot pounding, into a jubilant and artful look at spiritual exultation. While the asymmetrical groupings of dancers shun analogy to the symmetries of 18th century harmony, the near limitless articulations of limbs, torso, hands, and groupings of dancers readily equals the contrapuntal facilities and melodic aspects that are the signature of the music of that century. And, like Baroque music, one loses oneself in the works of Robert Battle by its welcoming craft rather than by an overwhelming volume of material.

Moreover, it is Battle's gift of musicality -- for viewers, that spontaneous, revelatory, and compelling moment one feels when the music seems to meet the movement perfectly --   rather than the family resemblance his works bear to Paul Taylor or David Parsons that makes his art distinctive. In fact, Battle's avowal that his choreography manifests his affection for the music and that he is often charged with the sin of Mickey Mouse-ing indicates the musical intent and motivation of his works. Other works on the program, for example, 'Takademe,' a male solo set to music by Shelia Chandra, and 'The Hunt,' a dance for four males set to music by Les Tambours du Bronx, illustrate certain obvious aspects of Battle's musicality.

Dance phrases, for instance, converged with musical phrases; and, like lightning, dramatic articulations of the body visualized thunderous rhythms. Yet, there is more. The negative hype that so easily follows upon the label of Mickey Mouse-ing in the works of Battle (and others 'guilty' of this sin) turns instead into a positive value. The convergences described, for example, provide an aesthetic compass that allows viewers to both know then ignore where they are granting them clearance to experience Battle's work in a multitude of directions.

Such assuring freedom is necessary for there is little in the music that predicts, for instance, the free-fall conclusion of 'Rush Hour' -- a work set on five female and two male dancers to music for strings and percussion by John Mackey. Neither does the music predict Battle's use of movement to imitate things or concepts, such as a house in the 'Sour Heart' section of 'Mood Indigo' (music again by Mackey) or a clock in ‘Rush Hour.’ Nor does the music guarantee Battle's abundant use of familiar gestures such as those of worship in 'Alleluia,' courting and breakup in the 'Bitter Jig' section of 'Mood Indigo' and 'Strange Humors' (music also by Mackey), or his equally abundant quotations of popular and formal dance forms, such as the tango, in 'Strange Humors,' Bharata Natyam in 'Takademe,' and African dance in 'The Hunt.' Nevertheless, the movement meets the music in Battle's works in an intensely satisfying way.

At the tender age of nearly two, the Battleworks Dance Company is precocious in its performance maturity. The dancers wear Battle's choreography as confidently as they wear their tights and that confidence holds the compass of musicality steadily. In turn, that steadiness highlights the contours of motion that shapes the rhetorical terrain of Battle's works. Fired by their long time connection to Robert Battle, many of the dancers helped to found and now administrate their newborn company. Their collective dedication delivers the goods and one hopes to see Kirven J. Boyd, Elisa Clark, Tyler Gilstrap, Clare Holland, Erika Pujic, Samuel L. Roberts, Kanji Segawa, George Smallwood, and Jennifer Warren perform Battle's works again and again.

Edited by Jeff

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