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Leaps and Bounds

Since receiving a transformative financial infusion in 2020, Gibney Company has been charging forward at a dizzying pace. The company, led by founder and artistic director Gina Gibney and company director Gilbert T. Small II, has doubled its roster of dancers while it voraciously acquires and commissions challenging works, rolls out two annual seasons in New York, and tours nationally and abroad. For its NYC spring season at the Joyce, Gibney presented a program of works by three distinct choreographers. Whether in the studio or on stage, the thirteen Gibney artistic associates are an immensely capable and technically versatile group of dancers, who bring spirited energy and emotional intelligence to their work.

Performance

Gibney Company Spring Season

Place

The Joyce Theater, New York, NY, May 17, 2023

Words

Karen Greenspan

Gibney Company’s world premiere of “Ghost Town” by Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond at the Joyce Theater. Photograph by Whitney Browne

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The evening opened with “Sara”—the most distinctive of the programmed works—choreographed by the Israeli team of Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar with music composition by Ori Lichtik. Originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater 2 in 2013, the work feels timeless and reveals the dancers’ emotional dimensions.

Gibney Company’s performance of "Sara" choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar at the Joyce Theater. Photograph by Whitney Browne

On a dark stage, lit only by two overhead spotlights, a cluster of six dancing figures stand opposite a single outlier. Alon Cohen’s inspired lighting design creates an otherworldly environment in the dark, where the dancers, clad in Odelia Arnhold’s shiny black bodysuits, are barely differentiated from the surrounding space. Like deep-sea creatures deprived of light, the dancers collectively move through varied textures and moods with an eccentric beauty and precision. The group of six sometimes moves as a single organism; at other times, individuals break ranks abruptly moving in opposing directions or with contrasting qualities. Mouths stretch open searching to speak or feed; hands gesture seeking to touch or feel. Miriam Gittens, as the outlying figure, moves with an urgency that intensifies as the piece progresses. Her hands clasp over her mouth and then her eyes as she lip syncs the accompanying vocals—her body undulating like an invertebrate.

The work concludes as the dancers elongate their bodies assuming Eyal’s signature tiptoe posture. They appear to be suspended in deep space or water as the music’s final instrumental tones echo with a faraway resonance.

A unique feature of the program was the commissioned interstitial music played pre-show, post-show, and between dance works. The composition, by Ryan Lott (founding member of the band Son Lux that created the score for the 2022 Oscar-winning film Everything Everywhere All at Once), conjured sounds of massive waves building, cresting, and fading into silent retreat. Refreshing the imagination with intervals of non-visual stimulation had a cleansing effect allowing each dance work to roll out onto a clean mental canvas.

From start to finish, the newly commissioned work “Ghost Town,” by co-creators Tiffany Tregarthen and David Raymond from Vancouver, is contoured by James Proudfoot’s prominent lighting design. A figure steps into a funnel of light on a dark stage and then disappears. Others stealthily appear and case the scene. This gradually builds to a mass of lunging bodies that fans across the stage with assertive energy to a pulsing electronic score—all amid the entrancing play of shadow and light.

Large group sections spin off solos and duets that spiral and circle through space with ecstatic freedom. Of note was the sensuous duet danced by Jesse Obremski and Eleni Loving with attentive, slow-motion partnering. Loving continued into an enthralling solo of twitching, reaching, and then literally turned herself inside-out in contortions with affecting vulnerability.

“Ghost Town,” per the program notes, claims to be: “Rituals for returning to middle ground. / Acts of self-preservation in extreme climates. / Rendering time habitable.”

At the very least, it is a handsome work that showcases the company as a unified collective and a group of strong individual performers.

Miriam Gittens, Eddieomar Gonzalez- Castillo, and Kevin Pajarillaga in "Bliss" by Johan Inger. Photograph by Whitney Browne

The final work “Bliss,” by highly regarded Swedish-born, contemporary ballet choreographer Johan Inger, fell short of its title. Set to jazz pianist Keith Jarrett’s legendary and virtuosic “Köln Concert,” Inger adopted a notably casual interpretation for the 2016 commission for Aterballeto. This seemed to align well with the personal and easy character of the music’s opening strains. Dressing the dancers in muted everyday wear designed by Francesca Messori and himself and placing them against the bare brick wall of the stage with a sunburst of light bulbs in the upper right-hand corner served the relaxed concept. But with the choreography’s growing reliance on conventional ballet vocabulary, the effect was lost, and the result was uninspiring. It seemed a far cry from the free, soaring, improvisatory spirit of the music. The recurring jogging motif, although joyous in its energetic simplicity and implied endorphin high, and the breakouts into pedestrian relationships did not catapult the dance out of ordinariness. The valiant effort of the dancers to inject bliss into the steps and the music, of course, was its saving grace. Gibney artists and audiences deserve more inventive fare.

Karen Greenspan


Karen Greenspan is a New York City-based dance journalist and frequent contributor to Natural History Magazine, Dance Tabs, Ballet Review, and Tricycle among other publications. She is also the author of Footfalls from the Land of Happiness: A Journey into the Dances of Bhutan, published in 2019.

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