At the start of Anna Myerís new dance, Unlocking, a woman in a tiny, cream-colored satin nightie and matching biker shorts walks softly around, inscribing the space with cryptic arm gestures. Soon another woman appears, identically dressed in a dark color. The second woman seems to be the shadow of the first, copying her movements but maybe a breath later. They lie on the floor side by side, scootching down as if they were settling in to sleep. The dance that follows might be some half-recalled dream of theirs.
Unlocking, to a commissioned score by Dana Brayton, was the featured work of Myerís program last weekend at the Tsai Center. The sponsor, FleetBoston Celebrity Series, designed the Boston Marquee to support local artists. Devoting a full evening to one choreographerís work sends a message about the strength of a talent, and Myerís sensibility came across as idiosyncratic but restrained. In addition to the commissioned dance, she premiered a new duet, The Presence of That Absence, and three pieces from the í90s.
The dreamers in Unlocking were joined by three other women and three men, all dressed to match (costumes were by Jill Tibault), except that the menís tops were gauze, and the choreographer, the last to enter, wore more-covered-up red pajamas. They sorted themselves into different formal groupings, using the same basic phrase material and adding some more active traveling, lifting, and jumping steps. Braytonís score for an unusual ensemble of string trio, saxophone, and two marimbas created a pastoral, almost contemplative setting for the dancersí airy, shifting patterns.
What contributed to the dreamlike atmosphere of the dance was that even though people worked closely together, touched and lifted each other, I never saw anyone make eye contact with a partner. This seems to be part of Myerís style ó it held true for the rest of the concert ó and it gives her work an odd detachment. Itís as if the dancers were fingering through a vault of half-decayed memories, events that arenít going to cause them pain anymore. At one point they were all posing in different shapes, and I thought of a sculpture gallery.
Two women again shadowed each other in The Presence of that Absence, again without making eye contact. Jennifer Polyocan and Liz Santoro, in long satin gowns of red and black, suggested some kind of forbidden liaison fraught with iconic signs. They danced a few steps of a tango. One reconnoitered the other as if looking for the opening to get in synch. They stepped deliberately on their toes in an embrace, one behind the other, like the Balanchinean references to the spellbound lovers Orpheus and Eurydice in Serenade and Cotillon.
All this was accompanied by the largo movement of Chopinís Sonata for Cello and Piano (played by Andrew Christopher Mark and David Polan). When the music ended, on an inhale it seemed, as if getting ready to go on, the woman in red suddenly walked off and the dance was over.
Myerís use of musical fragments and wildly butted-together musical styles can be disconcerting. Just when you think something will develop with the two women in the Chopin piece, or the faux ballet dancers (Bess Rouse and Rick Vigo) in the Duet from Quintet to Brahms (to the adagio from the G-major Violin Sonata, which was played by Polan and Geneviève Martineau), the music comes to an end.
Sometimes Myerís choices are startling. Wine and Roses, for Rouse, Vigo, Polyocan, Linda Cedeno, and Frank Campisano, begins very formally to Bach, a four-note ground bass that marches up and down. Two of the women begin a duet with Bachís first variation, but all of a sudden a chorus is singing Verdi, and the whole group start doing squats and handstands and melodramatic stabbing gestures.
This is as far as the group ever venture out of their formal composure. The Penguin Café Orchestra plays " Lie Back and Think of England, " a number with classical instrumentation and even a hint of Bach, that suddenly goes haywire. The dancers are too well-bred to get out of control, but they make goofy gestural references without losing their pattern: waving, embracing, despair, Iím the king, Iím a figure on a Greek vase. A weird note in the music triggers another change and the lights go out.
The program ended with Myerís affectionate ramble for seven dancers partnering seven children, Bluebird No. 173, a piece no audience can possibly resist.