A sprightly night with Mulgrew & Co.

Posted: May 20, 2014

Anne-Marie Mulgrew opened her spring season Friday at Christ Church Neighborhood House with Six Short Works for Dance and Film 1992-2013, all choreographed by her. I've been watching the Anne-Marie Mulgrew and Dancers Company for most of its 28 years, yet had never seen some of these pieces.

In red tights, Barbara Tait bolted from the seat behind me onto the stage for a two-minute solo called "The Busker." She jiggled, lunged, and splayed out beseeching hands, cute as a giggle.

In a typically conceptual, witty, and prop-laden work excerpted from 2000's Paper Waitress, Joe Cicala and Kate Rast fooled around with a bag of tissues before turning them into a kind of hat for Rast. Of the two films, Tales of the Buffoon was utterly adorable. Made for WHYY-TV in 1992 with visual artist Mitchell Taylor Gillette, it involved six cavorting dancers superimposed on black-and-white, cartoonlike backdrops.

Ashley Searles choreographed and danced "Elevation 2014" wearing a Wim Winklewagen-designed urbane costume of sleek black leather leggings finished at the feet in black pointe shoes. The dance, with a full moon rising and disappearing on a screen behind her, had a cosmic quality. While lying on her side and twisting her torso, a spidery Searles circled the spotlight with her pointe shoes. With each slow and deliberate thrust of her toes into the floor, she spun herself until momentum brought her upright. She made beautiful geometric shapes in wide-legged relevées and arched her arms as if beseeching the moon, a nighttime naiad.

As in one of Carmella Vassor-Johnson's videos, Pre-Dinner Cocktails Honey, shown earlier with Cicala and Melissa Bessent dancing playfully in a kitchen, Mulgrew is more at home with the personal and domestic. In World of Dreams 2014, an outgrowth of two earlier works, she attempts social and political commentary, questioning what it means to be an American.

Lagging, as we do, so far behind other countries in so many areas, I just could not buy her saccharine portrait of diversity and nostalgic jazz dancing to Harry James' big band.

The last section had six of the company circling one another in clunky angel wings. Was this a paean to Angels in America? Hard to tell. The angels fell flat and so did the piece.

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