A five-day journey to Bear’s Ears National Monument in Utah in the company of other dancers, choreographers and Native Americans turned Gotheiner’s mind to more serious pursuits resulting in “Bear’s Ears” and “Detour,” two of his best works. Both display some influence of Native American dance forms, but only to focus Gotheiner’s creative energies on the emotional journeys of his dancers.
Bear’s Ears is a national monument under attack by this government’s forces which want to open this area to mining and natural gas exploration, completely ignoring the deep spiritual associations with the Native Americans.
“Bear’s Ears,” to an original moody score by Scott Killian, began in darkness with only the sound of wind accompanying the eight dancers as they took their places on stage in two straight lines facing each other.
Dressed in Mary Jo Mecca’s dark outfits, they began by performing simple skips, kicks, eyeing each other as the lines moved, always parallel, about the stage. They tipped towards and away from each other. Although reminiscent of American Indian dance forms—simple, rhythmic and earthbound—Gotheiner applied his inventiveness to this form and came up with a language all his own.
Quietly one couple left the safety of the lines and began a duet revealing a deep, personal connection, not a happy relationship, but a subtle one. They warily circled each other before returning to the lines which quickly absorbed them in the ritualistic movements, their previous darker emotions forgotten.
Couple after soloist after couple emerged from the demanding, simple repetitive movements of the two lines revealing loving relationships, alienation from the group and almost brutally physical confrontations. Their personal emotions were metaphors for the stark yet rich lands of the Bear’s Ears Monument, videos of which were projected onto the backdrop. Designed by Josh Higgason, these images of the eerily beautiful scenery, from details of the soil to wide vistas of the mountains, added immensely to the expressive choreography.
There were no gimmicks, just beautifully open movements and a dedication to his subject that have become Gotheiner’s hallmark. Mark London’s lighting sculpted the stage is beautifully varied ways, illuminating the atmosphere of ritualistic emotion.
“Detour” was a more intimate ballet. If “Bear’s Ears” was formal, revealing its secrets gradually as dancers peeled off of a the central living metaphor of ritual, “Detour” was a total emotional experience, sometimes hard to look at as the dancers partnered each other, often not even looking at each other. This was a more urbane look at relationships.
The entire production team from “Bear’s Ears” participated. Mecca’s costumes were a soft white this time and Killian’s score a bit darker. Higgason’s projections were more abstract and London’s lighting design brighter, but harsher.
In “Detour” each of the six dancers had a short solo, these solos gelling into duets and finally returning to the undulating group. The most memorable solo was for Jessica Smith who expressed a strange combination of being confused yet confident in her deftly smooth movements. The theme of “Detour” appeared to be being lost and then found by the group. Anxiety melted into assurance as soloists returned to the community. With only six dancers, Gotheiner, with the help of his performers, created an urbane work with deep emotional and psychological underpinnings.
The dancers deserve to be mentioned: Chelsea Ainsworth, Alex Biegelson, Alison Clancy, Isaies Santamaria Perez, Doron Perk, Jessica Smith, Stephanie Terasaki and William Tomaskovic. The dancing throughout was first rate, each registering as an individual while clearly dancing in a united front as a great modern dance troupe.
Zvi Gotheiner and ZviDance reached a new level of expression and technique with this program.
ZviDance: Bear’s Ears & Detour (December 19-22, 2018)
New York Live Arts, 219 West 19th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-691-6500 or visit http://www.newyorklivearts.org
Running time: 90 minutes including one intermission