‘Gather’ harvests jazz and modern dance improvisation

Tere Mathern, Tim DuRoche and company converge on Conduit with a collaborative winner

Gathering on the dance floor at Conduit. Photo: Joe Cunningham

By MARTHA ULLMAN WEST

Six dancers, three on each side of Conduit’s splendid studio, stand quietly, poised for action, as the music begins on a dissonant, high-pitched note. Suddenly the dancers travel fast to the rear of the space, converging into a cluster of interdependent action: limbs stretching, reaching into space, seemingly as far as they can go.

This is how “Gather,” Tere Mathern and Tim DuRoche’s latest collaboration, starts. The directors say it is about “convergence,” and “community” and the “meaning of connection,” and choreographically it’s easy to view it on those terms. Throughout, the dancers break apart into solos and duets and trios, regroup, line up and play a kind of movement tag, with one dancer providing the impetus for the next dancer’s shift of an arm or extension of a leg; and the incredible musicians, especially DuRoche on drums, go into their own riffs and come together again as jazz musicians do.

Since I’m more interested in aesthetics than polemics, I prefer to view “Gather,” happily, as the result of a collaboration by two gifted, sophisticated, knowledgeable and experienced artists to create 55 minutes of urban-oriented music and dance, gorgeously performed, that deserves a much bigger audience than it had on Thursday’s opening night.

Mathern has gathered, if you will, a company of dancers who have the chops and commitment to perform movement derived from many sources. There are balletic elements in turned-out legs; moments of contact improv; spins that end in a modern pelvic contraction.  Kristine Anderson can move with the lush flow of thick cream poured from a pitcher, and also the speed and thrust of a jet engine. Lyra Butler-Denman, tall, blonde, and extremely chic in the “little black dress” that constitutes her costume, has studied dance in Seattle, New York, and Paris, and looks it.  Her duet toward the end of the piece with Mathern, costumed in an equally stylish red dress, is laced with a kind of tentative tenderness. Arms are almost linked, the interaction of their bodies is cautious, as they embrace – what? Sisterhood? Friendship?

Add Eowyn Emerald Barrett and Joshua Thrower, high-energy movers both of them, and the self-contained Rachel Slater to the mix, and Mathern finally has the dancers she needs as she develops in a rather different direction.  I haven’t in the past looked for humor in her work, or DuRoche’s either. So when the two sax players, Joe Cunningham and Reed Wallsmith, join in the dance, blowing great blasts that propel the dancers to the sidelines, leaving them to connect in their own idiosyncratic way, it was a delightful surprise.

Both the score, created by the collective ensemble that is Battle Hymns & Gardens (and where, please, are they playing next?) and the choreography are beautifully structured, as the pace picks up and then gently, almost imperceptibly cools down, ending almost ritualistically, but totally without sentimentality.  Costume designer Jenna Chen has given the production considerable color and style, and lighting designer Robin Greenwood enhances mood and movement without distracting from it. It goes without saying that the live music energizes dancers and the audience, and I would add that DuRoche never once took his eyes off the dancers, something I wish were true of all musicians playing for dance.

Mathern’s use of Conduit’s beautiful space, leaving the windows uncovered, to reveal a cityscape I’d love to see Henk Pander paint,  made this piece an expression of our urban environment in the same way earlier  Mathern works have been influenced by the natural world. Dance at its best, art at its best, tells us who we are.  Go see “Gather” and rejoice.

****

“Gather” repeats at 8 p.m. this Friday-Saturday, Oct. 26-27, and on November 1,2, and 3. Ticket information is here.

2 Responses.

  1. Bob Hicks says:

    Friday night’s performance was fully up to the mark, too. It struck me in interesting abstract ways, very much about the patterns that the music and the dancers made together. Especially when the dancers lined up, but other times as well, they made me think of embodiments of musical notes on a page – but instead of being separated by bars, they actually bumped into one another, sending each bouncing and rebounding against the next, the way that music actually moves. It was like “seeing” a composition slither off the page and onto the stage. Body weight was interesting, too, suggesting the varying tonalities of different instruments. Butler-Denman’s about 12 feet tall with the power and grace of an Amazon warrior, and how she interacts with a slight dancer like Mathern or a compact one like Thrower creates a fascinating kinetic study of balances. Loved the music. DuRoche’s drums kept the whole thing running, the two saxes were like slightly syncopated twins, and I’m a longtime fan of bassist Andre St. James. I found it easy to forget all about theories or intentions and enjoy this the way I’d enjoy a good abstract expressionist painting: just look for the form and movement, and let it flow into you.

  2. Martha Ullman West says:

    Couldn’t agree more, Bob.

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