Choreographer-environmentalist Martita Goshen has a mission: to use her art to call attention to the plight of our most precious creatures and lands.
Her works, however, are not mere imitations of animal behavior; neither are they heavily message-laden. Rather, through movement and sound, she evokes spirits and atmospheres, glimmers and outlines.
Her newest piece, "Arktikos," which had its Washington premiere Sunday at Dance Place, derives its inspiration from author Barry Lopez's "Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape." This hour-long, intermissionless work for five dancers, narrator and assorted musicians attempts -- through a synthesis of lush and languid movements, excerpts from Lopez's book and a variety of live and recorded musical styles -- to conjure up the ice, the quiet, the light and the animal life that make up the Arctic landscape. That synthesis is crucial, for if any of these individual elements were experienced on their own, I fear the enterprise would crumble.
Goshen's movement style calls to mind those of two modern dance pioneers -- Isadora Duncan and Jose' Limon. She favors wavy lyrical phrases and makes much use of the arms, hands and upper torso. It's all very beautiful to watch, but it's also dynamically monotonous, and not specific enough. The collectively produced musical score -- a blend of jazz, Debussy and Faure, mystical vocalizations and more -- has the opposite effect: It's eclectic and dynamically overwrought. And Lopez's text can become dense after a time.
Yet put these parts together, and somehow it all makes sense. The words give meaning to the movement; the wild calls and whispers enhance the text.
Add to that the crystalline qualities of the performers -- particularly dancer Nancy Colahan, cellist David Darling and vocalist Mirabai Deborah Rothrock -- and a very bleak and magical world does come dreamily into existence.