Patrick Corbin's 'Conversations': A Powerful Heart-to-Heart

Simply riveting: The CorbinDances troupe shows the influence of Paul Taylor.
Simply riveting: The CorbinDances troupe shows the influence of Paul Taylor. (2007 Photo By Lois Greenfield)
Monday, August 4, 2008

In the pantheon of romantic piano concertos, the Rachmaninoff Second is the mighty Aphrodite: lavish, lush and pretty much guaranteed to sell out concert halls. It is, in a word, sentimental.

"Romantic Conversations," choreographer Patrick Corbin's new work set to the concerto's second movement, is not. That's the genius of it. At the Adagio's emotional climax, four dancers stand in a square, repeating simple port de bras arm gestures. As Corbin understands it, this concerto is not a symphony hall spectacle, but a simple expression of beauty that dovetails into a black box. Saturday night at Dance Place, CorbinDances presented four remarkable works that astutely interpret diverse music.

Such accomplishments will not surprise local fans of Corbin and the Paul Taylor Dance Company, the troupe he performed with for 16 seasons. A Potomac native, Corbin quit high school at 17 to pursue a dance career in New York. Studies at the School of American Ballet and a stint at the Joffrey Ballet followed. He retired from Paul Taylor in 2005 and has gradually built a following for his own company since its 2003 debut.

The two companies pursue a similar aesthetic: barefoot, ballet-influenced modern dance that makes occasional forays into comedy. Yet while Taylor's iconic works tour the gamut of human emotions, Corbin seems content exploring one state of mind at a time. The theme of "Reach" (2006) is hardly original: Dancers stumble artfully around seeking acceptance or significance or -- something. Hints of narrative quickly unravel; what keeps you riveted is the clarity Corbin brings to Philip Glass's meandering String Quartet No. 5. As the music subtly shifts, builds tension and moves on, so, stylistically, do the nine dancers.

It's a testimony to Corbin, and his choreography, that such a talented group of performers signed on to share his stage. (A very fit 43-year-old, he appeared in all four works.) Adele LeRoi Nickel, his duet partner in the relationship drama "For the Good Times," is especially spunky, with feet so poised she could have toe shoes sculpted on. Nickel also inspired the finale: "Adele's Skirt," a world premiere by guest choreographer Nelly van Bommel. Set to a suite of Russian folk songs and intermittent periods of silence, this comic work should be shorter, but seen again.

-- Rebecca J. Ritzel

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