LAST week, Boston dance enthusiasts were invited to "experience the unexpected" with Boston Moves, a new annual commissioning project that showcases the works of some of the area's top choreographers.
The idea is to spotlight "the wealth and depth of talent we have right here in Boston," said Jeremy Alliger, executive director of Dance Umbrella, a nonprofit presenter of contemporary and multicultural dance that sponsored Boston Moves.
The program, held at the Emerson Majestic Theatre, featured the works of eight local choreographers (selected by an independent panel of dance experts) and provided a lively, albeit long (three hours) set of works that ranged from a lighthearted visit to Venice to an emotionally complex piece on relationships.
An attempt such as this always has an element of risk: You're presenting new works by choreographers who may not be known too well outside serious dance circles. But, Dance Umbrella doesn't promise Boston Moves to be anything more than a forum that could yield some new favorites.
Choreographer and dancer Darla Villani opened with her solo "Faith Reconstructions." After a Celtic-music introduction played in the dark hall, she appeared in a spotlight looking as if she had just taken a shower with her dress on. Intersecting with the well-crafted lighting, she moved with a kind of purposeful awkwardness like that of a newly hatched baby bird.
Peter Schmitz's "Skin," which also employed well-directed lighting, examined "the territorial map between two people." Wearing white trunks and white tank tops, dancers Jennifer Kayle and Bill Waddell moved quickly in designated spaces, sometimes together, sometimes apart. Quick gestures set to fluid music made for more of a movement study than emotional evocation.
On to Venice.
Peter DiMuro drew outright laughter during his piece "Venice: A Bridge Abridged," which relived his memories of being a first-time tourist there. DiMuro describes his dance as a "vaudeville of experiences." His troupe of 20-plus dancers seemed like a cast of thousands compared with the other works.
The statement "Venice can be a very confusing city" started this carnival of confusion and comedy. It included stereotypes of arty Venetians dressed in black, who smoke cigarettes, and tourists taking pictures, wearing sunglasses, and eating food on walking tours.
A "gondola" rolls around the stage as characters, often masked, interact in scenes set to Italian music. At one point, dancers presented a venetian blind and made comments about ice tea, which added to the "American in Venice" silliness.
"Masque" had the most serious tone in the showcase, as Paula Josa-Jones presented a dance involving one woman in black and two men in long white shirts; all three wore face paint and skull caps. Eerie music and verse about death and decay added a performance-art aspect to the intense work, which stems from the choreographer's sadness and anger about AIDS.
Marjorie Folkman performed her delightful solo work "La Fuga," which examined "entrapment and exits." She started by darting from stage left to stage right and back as if she were avoiding something or someone. Her movements seemed court-jester- and doll-like with hints of slapstick. Her actions would often be timed with the music, as if she were interpreting the piano notes of Camille Saint-Saens: Variations on a Theme by Beethoven. Humorous, lively, and original, without being cutesy. The piece was a definite high point of the evening.
"Straight to the Heart" closed the show as a look at the "disintegration of a relationship" through dance and words. Only three couples performed the piece instead of the intended four, because of an injury. Still, it did not lack for effect. Diane Arvanites-Noya created the dance, having been inspired by the writings of psychotherapist R.D. Laing. Using a chair as an integral prop, each couple acted out a phase of a relationship, from love to turmoil and then finally disintegration.
Statements such as "Jill feels safe to be angry with Jack because Jack does nothing" and "I'm guilty when I'm happy.... I want what I can't get." crop up during the dance, which was fast-moving and set to original music by Miguel Noya. When flowers literally fly, there's no turning back; at the end the men and women walk in their lines of "distinction."
If such works are an indication of future Boston Moves, the Dance Umbrella showcase will be an event to look forward to every year.