Dancers From the Dance

d9's ensemble shines, while the work itself is a mixed bag.

Though d9 dance collective is calling its current program “New Formula” (at Velocity MainStage through Sunday, Oct. 16; 206-325-8773 or, it is, in fact, simply a new set of dancers using an equation that the founding generation of d9 women created in 1992. With the ensemble run by the dancers themselves, all of d9’s artistic decisions, from casting to repertory, come from the group rather than a singular leader—resulting in a program that is decidedly mixed.

Rob Kitsos has loaded his new East West Highway with several layers. Video sequences of foreign locales are projected on a back curtain; vestiges of a kitchen and living room onstage include a refrigerator and an easy chair; and a television showing sports programs and old episodes of Law & Order is tucked away in the wings. At first, you look for connections between the projected locales and the live dancers—relating the crisp semaphore of the performers’ gestures, for instance, to the elaborate honeycomb of terraces in a Hong Kong apartment block—but eventually this cause-and-effect dialogue seems either stilted or accidental. The piece’s title implies some kind of rapid travel between parts of the globe or different cultures, but the movement doesn’t really reflect those multiple influences. The dancers’ busy accuracy softens with a new set of fluttery costumes and a change of music from Alan Morris Davis to John Cage, so that a long sequence of tender partnering may or may not be related to accompanying, elegiac black-and-white images of Bosnia.

The dancing itself is the strongest part of the work. Kitsos has crafted some handsome material which the d9 women do justice with grace. But instead of showcasing the main course, the side dishes—the travelogue images, the performer sitting in the easy chair with a TV remote and a bag of chips—distract our attention.

On the other side of the coin, Michael Foley’s Halcyon, a quartet set to Serge Rachmaninov’s choral work Vespers, is almost obsessive in its singular vision. The achingly sweet voices buoy the lush movement of beautiful women dancing beautifully. Though a program note explains that the title refers to a period of calm weather in the midst of stormy seas—and the dance shares that sense of a momentary reprise from strife—the air is finally too refined for a lengthy stay.

When Mark Haim performed his In the Moment as a solo on a program back in 2003, it was all about personal tics, the little twitches and shifts that dancers use to warm up their joints and judge how they’re feeling on any particular day. Hands flipping in and out, legs twisting at the hip joint, feet kneading the air—the dance was an organized set of self-referential behaviors. For this program, he’s set this litany of anatomical adjustments as a duet, and the emphasis shifts to comparison. Differences in leg length, hip flexibility, and range of motion in shoulder joints all add up to little changes in the core phrase, performed with a matter-of-fact energy to Paul Lansky’s ticktock electronic score. The dance starts on the floor, gradually shifting across the stage, and finishes just after the performers stand up—they’re ready to move on, and so we do.

Sad/Happy looks like someone gave choreographer Wade Madsen a Federico Fellini box set for his birthday, and the results, featuring a gently crazy pack of little old ladies in black, is wonderful fun. The women start out almost as caricatures— the shy one, the prissy one, the bossy one with the umbrella, all with those granny shoes and handbags. But as they run through their shtick—cooing over snapshots, hopping along in a faux folk dance, wielding their handkerchiefs like swords—their satisfaction in the details of their lives becomes clear. They are already wealthy in experiences, if not in youth, so that the “happy ending” of colorful sweaters and rose petals that Madsen gives them seems almost unnecessary. Yet, it’s a sweet tribute to an inevitable life process and a cheerful end to a wildly varied program.