The title might be a mouthful, but Dance Friday at the Institute of Contemporary Art was as satisfying as it was diverse. “New England Now Dance Platform” is the culmination of the New England Foundation for the Arts’ regional dance development initiative: New England Now, whose goals include “equity, inclusion and care of dance in the region”. The fruit of this initiative are this weekend’s three programs featuring 18 New England artists, under the auspices of NEFA, ICA and Global Arts Live.
First Friday was Ian Berg. Last month, Global Arts Live presented its tap company, Subject:Matter, at the Crystal Ballroom in Somerville. This time around, he was joined by Subject:Matter members April Nieves and Benae Beamon in “Expensive Nail Polish Dries Fast,” which they did at ICA as part of Global Arts’ “Dance UP.” Live in 2017. The trio stepped into red tuxedos and black bow ties, took off the jackets and sneaked onto a square of parquet flooring tapping out snippets of songs like “Goin’ to the Chapel” and “I Hear the Train a Comin’.” It was a lot of fun, with Berg jumping into women’s arms and getting knocked to the ground every time “Wild Thing” surfaced. For the finale, they put on the jackets and moved on to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sunny Side of the Street.”
“Brown Stew Fish Story” by Lauren Horn combines storytelling and dance. The story was that of “a man who took a water woman to wife”; he becomes prosperous as a result, but when he begins to mistreat her, she returns to the sea and is left with nothing. Barefoot and in a yellow-orange turn, Horn told that story with exemplary clarity, even as she twirled, kicked and executed barrel turns. His arm movements helped tell the story in a compelling way that wasn’t quite literal; the calypso music suggested the work’s Afro-Caribbean heritage.
Toby MacNutt stayed in Vermont due to COVID concerns, but the non-binary and disabled artist was well represented by the video with “In This Time Dilation.” We saw MacNutt curled up on the floor of a large living room, next to a high stool, then climb onto the stool, tilt his head in his hands, lift one leg, raise with his upper body, bend his feet , lifting the stool, all to an ambient soundtrack. The sequence was reversed in fast motion until MacNutt was back on the floor; then a second performer, Nicole Dagesse, appeared in a sling hanging just above and the two kissed. The editing, with its crossfades and disruptions, was sophisticated; MacNutt’s slow dance was mesmerizing.
Aretha Aoki’s title “IzumonookunI” refers to the founder of Japanese kabuki theatre. Wearing a shimmering dress, Aoki powerfully sang to a standing mic to the equally powerful beat of musician Ryan MacDonald before launching into a sequence of stylized moves that included crawling, stepping back and making angry faces. MacDonald’s bushy headgear was a puzzle, as was the little girl in pink at his feet. Aoki describes “IzumonookunI” as a “mixed sci-fi-punk-futuristic dance piece” celebrating “women who have been erased from Aretha Aoki’s family due to heritage lineage”, but this excerpt from an ambitious ongoing work was needed more context.
“Ambistellar” by Sarah Duclos was also a work in progress. Its title was taken from a Sojoy + Stu Dias album, and the two subtitles – “Ursa Minor: We Can Watch the Universe Unravel” and “Grus: The Last Winter” – were the names of the songs on which Duclos and a quartet danced. The movement was graceful, smooth and communal, and the second section incorporated a billowing translucent sheet that suggested the Milky Way, but neither the song lyrics nor the vague storyline were as stellar as those titles.
Scott McPheeters’ “Here Like Home” closed the evening with 13 members of the RDDI New England Now Artist Cohort dancing on stage and, in voiceover, explaining how New England belongs to them, to a soundtrack of waves oceanic. Everyone seemed to improvise, mostly solo, joining with this or that friend, doing their own thing but as part of a community. House indeed.
New England Now Dance Platform
Presented by the New England Foundation for the Arts, Global Arts Live and the Institute of Contemporary Art. At the Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theatre, Friday, March 18. Remaining performances: March 19-20. Tickets $10 to $25. 617-876-4275, www.globalartslive.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be contacted at [email protected]