A wealth of meaning can accrue in 20 minutes: Just consider the seven-dancer image that begins and ends “Picasso Dances,” a new work by choreographer Dana Tai Soon Burgess that had its premiere Thursday night at the Kreeger Museum.
The engrossing piece was performed by the Dana Tai Soon Burgess Dance Company. In the prologue, all seven stalked onto the stage, executing movements that — like their costumes — differed from dancer to dancer. Then the figures elegantly froze. What looked like the same sequence recurred at the dance’s conclusion, 20 minutes later. The all-hands-on-deck tableau was striking the first time around; by the end, it had become eloquently poignant. In the time between start and finish, Burgess’s choreography had associated each dancing figure with reams of story and emotion.
Created through a residency at the Kreeger (the Embassy of Spain also was a partner in the project), “Picasso Dances” is a response to four Picasso paintings in the museum’s collection. Set to music by Picasso’s fellow Spaniard Manuel de Falla, the dance consists of four main sections, each of which features costumes by Judy Hansen and movements that echo one of the paintings. (Burgess’s company also has collaborated with other local museums.)
In the first section, dancer Sarah Halzack, in cream-colored attire, gamboled with softly buoyant movements that included a cradling gesture and a handstand on forearms. The blithe, silky aesthetic, riffing on “Seated Nude Leaning on Pillows” (1964), suggested a woman reveling in a moment of happy calm. (Halzack is a reporter at The Washington Post.)
Inspired by “The Man With the Golden Helmet, after Rembrandt” (1969), a trio featuring Ian Ceccarelli, Felipe Oyarzun Moltedo and Alvaro Palau included a bullfighting motif, a nod to one of Picasso’s interests. Dressed in stylized toreador outfits in black, blue and gray, the men struck jaunty poses, confronting and coordinating with one another until one finally sank to the ground like a dying bull.
Another trio, inspired by “Still Life With Fruit, Glass, and Newspaper” (1914), seemed to chronicle a love triangle. Halzack, Ben Sanders and Kelly Southall wore streamlined costumes whose asymmetrical designs and bright green tones echoed the color and planes of the cubism-influenced painting. Sanders and Southall appeared to be on tenterhooks as Halzack dallied first with one, then the other.
A wistful duet, drawing ideas from “Head of a Woman” (1929), also dealt with difficult love. In an aching climactic moment, Oyarzun caught the hand of Katia Chupashko Norri and pressed it to his heart, only to have her break away and walk right past him.
Each section seemed to work hints of narrative into bursts of pure movement, much as in the Picasso paintings, where fragments of the recognizable world (faces, a helmet, a glass, etc.) are nestled amid shards and pools of literalism-defying color.
Wren is a freelance writer.