Bowen McCauley Dance program proves small and well-crafted can trump bigger and bolder

Sarah Kaufman
Dance critic March 8

You’d have to ask Charles Darwin why ambition and risk-taking are such standard hooks for our interest, whether in a mate, a business leader or an artist. We may need to evolve past this thinking, because in so many cases, the bigger, bolder challenge is not better. This was clear in the Bowen McCauley Dance program at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on Friday.

The program was part of the Atlas Intersections Festival, which puts an emphasis on collaborations. This brought about the evening’s chief pleasure: watching Lucy Bowen McCauley’s fine dancers in a premiere by guest choreographer Junichi Fukuda. His “Segments” broke no new ground, but it didn’t try to. Fukuda knew exactly what he was doing here: creating a work of easeful harmony with an interesting, rhythmical Howie B remix of Steve Reich and the simple, beautifully executed lines and swerves of five dancers. With such a restricted dance vocabulary, a sustained spin or a sudden light jump caught the imagination, bringing to mind freedom and flight.

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it. View Archive

The theater’s intimate space increased the sense of connectedness in this altogether pleasing work. But the real credit was due to Fukuda’s modest, tasteful proposal.

By contrast, strain was evident in Bowen McCauley’s “Fire and Air,” a portrayal of Cleopatra’s death scene from Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” There was a lot going on in this formidable task: Bowen McCauley, whose company has been a fixture of the local dance scene for 18 years, brought in a director, Alan Paul, and a composer, Patrick Soluri. Chelsea Schuller designed the theatrical costumes. The choreographer took on the role of the Egyptian queen, quite a sight with her bright red hair and purple gown.

Bowen McCauley’s wisest decision was to limit the rest of the cast to three: Dustin Kimball as Mark Antony, and Liz Clain-Stefanelli and Alicia Curtis as attendants. Yet there was neither fire nor air in the result. Earthbound heaviness was the overriding impression, given the dark, pounding music, the melodrama, the labored attempt at a Martha Graham-style emotional spectacle.

Better was Bowen McCauley’s lighthearted “Tableaux de Provence,” a sweet riff on romance that emphasized the six dancers’ soft, velvety quality of movement. If it, too, borrowed from iconic modern-dance works — various girl-meet-boy encounters from Paul Taylor and Mark Morris came to mind — the concept was sound and suitably achieved.

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