Review: A dance troupe in loco-motion
By Sarah Kaufman,
Brian Brooks Moving Company takes its name seriously. It could also be known as Nonstop or Really Busy, but Moving gets the idea across. By the end of Saturday’s program, when Brooks and another dancer teamed up for an agitated duet called “Motor” at Rockville’s American Dance Institute, you’d be forgiven for wondering if they were on the kind of performance-enhancing drugs that get Tour de France champions into trouble.
Forget the aerobic abilities of cyclists; medical science ought to zero in on Brooks. By some mix of oxygen capacity, hyperactivity and musculomusical response, he managed to look improbably fresh as he churned his way through all four works on the program, one of which was a nine-minute solo in a suit. All of the works involved a storm of bounding, lifting and thrashing.
Brooks, whose troupe is based in New York, once danced with the fearless Elizabeth Streb, whose highly physical, risk-taking aesthetic is a clear influence. But he tempers athleticism with a refined quality of slippery smoothness. This was the most interesting aspect of his longest work on offer, “Big City.”
Created this year for the full company of seven (including Brooks), it was otherwise a blur of interactions. There was a long section in which they slid and bobbed against one another, impassively, without sustaining contact. At other points, some of the dancers were doormats while others walked all over them, treading on supine bellies or proffered palms. The idea that we’re either a burden to our fellow man or only superficially available to him was established early, but it became a dead end.
High energy alone wasn’t enough to hold interest. Nor was the use of props. Brooks seems to like objects as much as a physical workout, but they didn’t help his dances. In “Big City,” metal rods covered the stage; the dancers piled them up here and there in passages of obscure purpose. There was a better gimmick in a piece called “Descent,” where the cast sent lengths of gauze wafting overhead by churning the air under them with boards. But the choreography was forgettable.
By contrast, what made the “Motor” duet stand out was its strict simplicity. In this excerpt from a larger piece, Brooks and John Beasant III hopped on one foot or the other, lunging like speed skaters, bouncing side by side and switching feet with Olympian synchronicity. This rhythmic hopscotch functioned as an efficient all-purpose motif. It worked as an unusual and elegant concept, with the dancers’ subtly patterned staccato recalling Philip Glass’s music minimalism. (Jonathan Pratt created the score.) It also supplied kinetic thrill and visual power.
The duet didn’t last a minute longer than necessary. And when the two men finally bounded backward into darkness, you felt like leaping up to hang gold around their necks.
The weekend performances by Brooks’ Moving Company came on the heels of puppeteer Dan Hurlin’s transcendent directorial work in Erik Ehn’s movement-play “Double Aspect Bright and Fair.” Which is to say that American Dance Institute is fast becoming one of the area’s leading presenters of choice experimental dance. The inquisitive dance or theater fan would do well to visit this black-box space, where upcoming fare includes New York’s Big Dance Theater, San Francisco’s Joe Goode Performance Group, and a raft of new works from local choreographers.