To see Benjamin Levy and Sidra Bell’s choreography on the same program is to understand why these artists were so keen to collaborate with each other.
Each has a distinct choreographic voice — Levy’s tends toward quiet and instinctive, Bell’s toward bold and detached. But their approach to dancemaking is very similar.
In a Saturday performance at Dance Place by their companies, LEVYdance and Sidra Bell Dance New York, it was clear that the nucleus of each work was an extensively developed, heterogeneous movement vocabulary.
There are flashes of storytelling, but that’s clearly not what compels them to create. Rather, they are driven by the possibilities of the human body and the challenge of finding new ways it can fold, fly, fall and bear weight.
In Levy’s “Physics,” the dancers seamlessly connect a daring, partnered counterbalance to a gravity-defying lift, only to spill to the floor in a heap moments later. While one of the dancers stays prone, the other somersaults across his partner’s belly, kicks to a handstand and resumes a standing position. It’s not a sunny dance, but it’s playful, and it is compelling because of the purity of its movement and the clarity of its construction.
The other Levy work on the program, “Falling After Too,” didn’t pack as much of a punch. The dancers didn’t quite achieve the state of vulnerability that has made this work so powerful when performed previously by a different cast.
“Less,” a new work choreographed by Bell for Levy’s company, is a flood of fleeting and unsettling images. One dancer coldly commands two others to push each other, and another screams with alarming anxiety as she is tossed like a beach ball. Throughout the work, the dancers shout, “Catch me!,” only to tumble to the ground after no one comes to their rescue. Every movement, from the palms that flap like fly swatters to the low bends that look like a catcher settling in to receive a fastball, is executed with an eerie indifference. It’s a chilling, unnerving dance that plays to deep fears about being misunderstood or alone. But sometimes it created a feeling of sensory overload, with so much going on that it was hard to know where to direct one’s focus. Some of its best details seemed to get lost underneath the heavy, booming music and constant barrage of movement.
Levy’s dancers ably adopted Bell’s aloof tenor, but Bell’s own company has it completely mastered. The hip rolls, paranoid skittering and balletic leg extensions in “.heterogamy” were executed with an apathetic gaze that was at once creepy and comical.