There were seven works on the program performed by Sister's Trousers Saturday night at Joy of Motion, but only a few that mattered. They were the ones in which Alice Howes danced, and in every case her contribution was riveting, thrilling and deeply mysterious.
Howes is the artistic director of Sister's Trousers, a small Sterling-based company of young women. The troupe is relatively new to the local dance scene, but it seems to have avoided the common newcomer trap of pretentiousness and somber profundity. This weekend's program, dubbed "Besito Pa' Ti (Kisses for You)," was an evenhanded, ably danced mix of levity and depth, never sinking into grim heaviness.
Howes choreographed four of the works, including the sweet, peppy title number, which closed the program. But her strength is not in creating dances; it's in inhabiting them. She's one of those rare performers who make every move look instinctive, as if every muscle in her body were charged by the same unstoppable impulse. She's probably of ordinary height, but she dances as if she were six feet tall. When her long, ropy arms fly up, they seem to send the ceiling soaring with them, expanding space with a sudden rush. She doesn't have especially long legs but she uses them like javelins, somehow adding distance beyond their range.
What was billed as an exploration of a yogic trance state in Ann Halligan Donahue's "Helix" became a study of intersecting planes and angles as Howes and Meghan McLyman etched ever-changing shapes in the shadows. Kyle Schwandt's "Links" was a similarly abstract grouping of forms; both works were elevated by Howes's shimmering energy and her wholly absorbed belief in what she was doing.
But it was in Howes's own solo "Darcy Farrow" that the dancer made the most unforgettable impression. To the slow, even rhythms of Nanci Griffith's unaccompanied singing of the folk song of the same name, Howes moved in double and triple time, matching the mournful tune with her own frenzied but heartrending depiction of grief. She flailed her arms like whips, tore at the air with her fingers, doubled over as if the wind had been sucked from her gut, but for all her spasms, her eyes told of numbness inside.
Joining Howes on the program were dancers of well-matched abilities; particularly fine were Kristen Kelley in Donahue's quicksilver solo "Slipping the Stream" and Amy Iadarola, Catherine Oh and Meisha Bosma in "Besito Pa' Ti."
While watching Howes, I was reminded of veteran local dancer Deborah Riley: They move somewhat differently but share an arresting presence and sense of unwavering purpose when they dance. On the short list of truly remarkable performers in the area, add Howes's name--and hope she sticks around.