How’s this for the ultimate house party: an intrepid band, a hot young musician-composer-singer, and some folks who can really dance — including a couple of ballerinas with a wild side. Also, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley, the rubber-limbed, Memphis Jookin virtuoso in high-tops, who seems to melt and fuse his bones at will.
They gathered for the Kennedy Center’s “DEMO: Now” program Wednesday in the Terrace Theater, just one night, gone forever, an experiment that vanished almost as soon as it began. Artists were tossed together, reshuffled and paired up in so many different and ingenious ways that it felt like one fierce, rumbling, thrashing utterance. It seemed like the center of the universe. It lasted little more than an hour.
Violins were plucked and strummed like ukuleles. Dancers got up in the musicians’ faces, and as they flew across the stage you could almost see contrails streaming from their limbs.
The lineup included Caroline Shaw, the Pulitzer Prize-winning violinist, vocalist and composer; the adventuresome string quartet Brooklyn Rider; ballerinas Sara Mearns, of New York City Ballet, and Patricia Delgado, recently retired from Miami City Ballet; and former Merce Cunningham Dance Company members Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener. Damian Woetzel, director of the Vail Dance Festival and soon-to-be Juilliard School president, was the evening’s director, curator and amiable emcee.
Shaw tantalized us with a work in progress, cooing and moaning in velvet tones while playing a keyboard that through some alchemy made her voice swell and clone itself into a choir. Space and time shifted; it was like hearing mystics chanting in an old stone temple.
What a bunch of co-conspirators we became, all of us linked by this crazy concept and its magical execution and our will to keep it going. In a solo choreographed by Pam Tanowitz, Delgado was flanked by Brooklyn Rider violinists Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen, playing Bartok, and as she darted from one to the other, a sweet hum of tension ignited among the three. There’s no resisting Delgado’s brisk musicality, the sharp action of her legs and her focus, just as sharp.
So it went. Delgado joined dancers Jason Collins and Victor Lozano in “Blueprint,” a beautiful new piece by Tanowitz commissioned for the evening. There was the crisp, scissoring action again, but it was warmed by a secret language among the dancers, who shared looks and playful gestures. This was the most richly produced work of the evening, with Aaron Copp’s golden lighting and exquisitely sheer, print costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung.
The finale exploded and united everything that had come before, with all of the evening’s artists onstage, including excellent percussionist Savannah Harris and Mearns skimming around like quicksilver, retracing steps from her earlier solo, “Fandango,” by Alexei Ratmansky
“DEMO: Now,” part of the Kennedy Center’s Direct Current series of contemporary culture, was a living free-association. Put together a traditional Persian folk melody and . . . hmm, what else? How about the tippy-toe spins and effortless street ballet of Lil Buck and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles? Bam, you’ve got the bones of “Ascending Bird,” as the exhilarating last number was called. Many of the works sprang from that kind of happy clash.
This is also a philosophical argument. Here is Woetzel’s reasoning: These artists, all from different fields, like to collaborate. Given how fine and open-minded they are, if you mix them together you’ll have a great show. A hypothetical case took on life before our eyes. Witnessing it was the ultimate collaboration: joining our joy to theirs.