Carolyn Dorfman Dance Co.
|A Many-Splendored Thing, Carolyn Dorfman’s dances about love win hearts
The Star-Ledger, May 4, 2010, Robert Johnson
When love flies in the window, the ability to think straight often slips out the door.
But choreographer Carolyn Dorfman manages to keep her head screwed on straight, however, in the delightful new program titled “In the End It’s All About Love,” which her Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company, from Union, unveiled Saturday at the South Orange Performing Arts Center.
In this collection of touching and playful dances, Dorfman avoids the pitfalls of romantic cliché. Her works are neither simplistic nor overwrought. They speak directly to the heart, without lapsing into baby talk. They stimulate emotion without wringing us out.
If Doffman’s enthusiasm for sparkling, cherry-colored hula hoops in the premiere “Cercle d’Amour” suggests the folly of someone giddily infatuated, her craft keeps the evening solidly grounded. When Cupids and roses do appear, it is with a certain face-saving irony. This choreographer casts a sympathetic eye on the human condition, especially in the first half of the evening, and clearly she loves props; but in “Cercle d’Amour” she shows us that she loves patterns, space and volumes best of all.
The program opens with “Facets,” a sampler mining old dances for their sentiment. Bodies pile up and roll off each other in “Pastorale Pause,” and revolving platforms change our perspective, creating a dynamic architectural space. Dancer Jacqueline Dumas supplies a human focus. A solitary figure, she attaches herself to one couple after another, but ultimately finds community in a circle of women.
Her search anticipates the excerpts from “Living Room Music” and “Love Suite Love,” which also feature lonely hearts. Marielis Garcia waits skittishly for a beau who never comes, while Dumas stretches longing for the one who has departed. Significantly, Dorfman makes a place for both these individuals in the finale of “Facets” rather than impose a false ending where only happy couples may be found.
“Divide and Conquer” is similarly candid, illustrating the case of a typical suburban couple with children. Too harried for romance while the kids are growing up, Dumas and lon Zimmerman find themselves thrown together again once the kids have left the nest. Their kitchen table becomes a raft on which they cling to one another shipwrecked. Darkness encroaches. Their space grows narrower still, as they step onto a chair and advance together into unknown waters.
After this poignant image, it’s time to cut loose. In “Cercle d’Amour,” the hula hoops become mesmerizing objects as they spin in circles filled with kinetic energy. They create an environment and define the space. Dancers dive through them, arrange them in patterns and lay them on the floor to make nests and to mark territory. The hoops become extensions of the body.
“Cercle d’Amour” contains its own imaginative vignettes. Mica Bernas is a ringmaster in pointe shoes, putting three men through their paces. Illustrating a poem, two dancers portray lovelorn skyscrapers who dream that their child will not be anchored to the sidewalk. A huge diamond ring appears, and the stage sprouts cartoon characters, while Andy Teirstein’s eclectic world beat score keeps pace with its rhythms.
What makes this premiere a hit, however, is its compelling symbolism. Much more than a toy that inspires scampering fun, the hoop suggests the way love shelters people, and the desire that brings a couple together within its mystic enclosure.
The Listings; Carolyn Dorfman Dance Company
Manhattan dance fans are notorious for their lack of curiosity about what goes on west of the Hudson River. But choreographers are working there, too, and sometimes that distance from the hectic world of New York dance can be a very healthy thing. Carolyn Doffman, who is based in Union, New Jersey, seems to have benefited from the distance, for her work glows with the quiet authority of someone who burrows comfortably into material that interests her, whether fashionable or not. Trained at the University of Michigan and the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, Ms. Dorfman does a lot of teaching, some of it as a guest at the Limon Institute in Manhattan. She has also worked to develop dance in New Jersey institutions. She is probably best known these days for dances that explore Jewish lives and legacies. A humanist, she offers her audiences the dance equivalent of a cherished book of family photographs. There will be other kinds of pieces on the program presented by the 23-year-old Carolyn Doffman Dance Company this weekend, one of them by Aidan Treays, a guest choreographer from England. But Ms. Dorfman’s new “Odisea” will chronicle the journey of 23 Jews fleeing persecution in mid-17th century Brazil for the unfamiliar world of New Amsterdam (New York City). Her 2002 “Echad (One)” examines ideas about humanity and individuality in the light of writings on pre-biblical life, the Jewish liturgy and evolving theology and philosophy. The dancers’ bodies, above, will very likely look sculptured, as a group forming a flow of images that directly communicate emotions like hope, resignation, uncertainty and joy with the chewy simplicity of good bread.
Dorfman’s ‘Echad’ Poses Philosophic Questions
‘One’ is a potent concept. When translated into Hebrew, “Echad,” it brings into focus monotheism and a bundle of issues that follow.
Carolyn Dorfman, a choreographer whose work frequently stands out for its cerebral underpinnings, has taken “Echad” as the name of her newest work, performed by her company Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23 at the F. M. Kirby Shakespeare Theater at Drew University in Madison.
After dazzling her audience with “Mayne Mentshn” (My People) last year, the Union-based Dorfman has followed her muse into a different direction, with this intense, abstract and engrossing new piece. Inspired in part by the experience of taking her company to Poland to perform “Mayne Mentshn” at the site of death camps, and in part by her reaction to the events of Sept. 11, Dorfman has turned to the most physical of idioms to express complex ethical ideas.
Obviously not one to shy away from a challenge, the choreographer has built her work for eight dancers around a prep of her own conception. A wheel eight feet in diameter, built of tubular aluminum and weighing 120 pounds, it has spokes and supports that enable the dancers to hang on it, roll in it, lift it, hide beneath it and weave in and out of it. The physical risks of dancing with the wheel (which was built for the company by Acadia Scenic of Jersey City) echo the risks the choreographer was taking with difficult subject matter.
In pre-Biblical society, where cycles of seasons control the flow of life, the dancers begin in a time and place where community is everything, the individual, nothing. With the wheel as an altar-like centerpiece, the dance begins with three women gesturing skyward, perhaps toward the sun, the motion evocative of Middle Eastern line dance. At one side, two men perform a series of acrobatic lifts and stretches. Two lovers intertwine on the floor. Ultimately one woman is singled out and imprisoned in the center of the wheel, marked as a sacrifice.
Dorfman believes the development of monotheism was a pivotal moment in human history, when the practice of human sacrifice was forbidden. At that point, the significance of an individual human life was acknowledged and history became linear and not cyclical.
This critical event is depicted as one of the men leaves the group and rescues the woman from the sacrificial altar of the wheel. As the other dancers leave the stage, the man, Jon Zimmerman, is left to struggle and come to terms with the wheel. In that brilliant solo, Zimmerman brings into focus the hardship of breaking with the weight of tradition, and of balancing the needs of the individual with those of the community.
“Echad” has riveting power. It is performed to an original commissioned score by Greg Wall, who also wrote the music for “Mayne Mentshn.” The music is electronic and intensely rhythmic, with vocal sounds and bird songs interwoven.
The dancers are dressed in simple and beautiful sand-colored tunics and white half-skirts that enhance the mood without impeding movement. The costumes were designed by Russell Aubrey. Charles S. Reece created the subtle and effective lighting.
This is a uniquely fascinating piece, which holds the attention and takes the audience on an intellectual, emotional and visual trip. The dancers exhibit amazing timing and brilliant athleticism, as well as sensitivity to the meaning of their movement. Dorfman’s idiom is very special and she has built herself a wonderful company to express it.
Also on the program were two eadier works revived for the occasion. “Love Suite Love,” first danced in 1982, is a playful piece about the ups, downs, ins and outs of romance, to songs by Patsy Cline. Jazz composer/drummer Horacee Arnold and a live ensemble provided the music for “A Fork in the Road,” premiered in 1996. In this upbeat and amusing piece, the audience is asked to choose the direction of the dance at various critical moments.
Carolyn Dorfman’s continuing growth as a choreographer and a company director here in New Jersey is a reason for Garden State dance aficionados to stand up and cheer. We can only look forward to what’s coming next.