NobleMotion Dance seems to have created a winning formula for its annual fall concert at the Hobby Center’s Zilkha Hall: hold a summer intensive for advanced students, cast a dozen or so the most compelling movers, then create (and promote) a sleek and polished mega-dance designed to dazzle. I think it’s a sensational premise that gives the dance community not only an opportunity to perform on a grand scale with some of the city’s most skilled dancers, but something for all of us to eagerly look forward to. I was certainly excited for Supernova, and if getting an eyeful is any measure of success, then Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble certainly did not disappoint.
The August 27 performance was marred by a fire alarm, which required the audience to evacuate the auditorium right before the second act. This was unfortunate, considering a similar experience occurred on opening night. It certainly created a spike in the energy and excitement among the company’s many fans, but for me, it was first and foremost disorienting. The program was already filled to the brim with sensory stimuli with little room to breathe. Case in point: Pentimento.
The evening’s opening piece was quite remarkable, with so much craftsmanship to admire, but I found myself deconstructing the quadruple collaboration’s individual parts rather than reading it as a whole. Pentimento references the many changes of direction an artist makes when creating his/her composition. David J. Deveau’s technology saw some impressive work, with dancers projected onto large-scale hanging fabric panels in fragmented time frames. David Ikard’s soundscape of howling winds, rain storms, and cascading water lent the imagery a sense of otherworldly time and place. The dancing was beautiful, but there seemed to be a disconnected from the rather austere design elements and the warm, vibrant neoclassical movement.
Pentimento was followed by A Motorcycle for Moses, a dance of staccato movement and dynamic shifts in quality. The monochromatic costume design was a nice pairing with the steely, seemingly disconnected relationships in bodies. The partnering was original and inventive, but the sharp jolts of movement that tied each relationship together suggested a darker, sinister undertone that I don’t think was intentional. There was a plethora of movement in a rather short time frame; if it were more unpacked, I think this particular dance would have been more edifying, although it’s hard not to admire the bursts of vibrant choreography.
Quietly, on my father’s back was the breathing room that the program needed at this point. Jesus Acosta and Tristin Ferguson dance wonderfully together, and the partnering looked to be physically effortless while also being emotionally thoughtful. The simple sequence of Ferguson walking through space and Acosta shifting her direction while she steps on his back provided one of the most gratifying images of the program. The dance mines the father-daughter bond, but I think it’s successful in suggesting the complexity of any human relationship where the trajectory of one entity is dependent on the active participation of the other.
The evening’s big surprise, Supernova, finished the first half of the program. Deveau’s lighting elements required the audience to put on a pair of complimentary sunglasses; otherwise there were moments of complete blindness. This was a fun component, as it underscored the piece’s homage to sci-fi escapism. Its beginning was eery, yet, fascinating to watch; it was cleverly staged with dancers shooting in front of and in back of a lowered curtain. I had the impression of space explorers traversing new, unchartered territory, or perhaps a humanoid alien race that had become adapted to the harsh, ultraviolet rays of a foreign sun. Watching Supernova was good fun up until the increase in tempo and the flood of bodies that filled the stage.
Whereas last year’s Storm Front felt remarkably streamlined for the thirty-plus bodies on stage, Supernova felt cramped, crowded, and a bit out of control. It didn’t feel impressive for the number of dancers onstage; rather, it felt like one big mass of movement without any discernible ebb and flow. Any semblance of order was probably the result of co-choreographer Laura Harrell, who has proved particularly talented with numbers, patterns, and spatial configurations. Supernova felt like a long piece, but when it was over it felt like it should have gone on for another movement or two. A break or two in the rush of movement might have created a more realized concept.
Andy Noble’s Lorelei’s Whisper finished the program, and even on the larger scale of the Zilkha Hall, the dance proved to be just as marvelous as it did at the Barn several years ago. Deveau’s lighting divides the space into distinct prisms, and the heavy smoke effect gave the impression that these light barriers were as tangible as solid walls. The dancers suggest heavenly beings as they create indelible imagery in silhouette, with body parts reaching and falling into one dimension from the next. The opera score is grandiose in magnitude, but Andy Noble’s vision is just as large and never shrinks in scope. Here, the Nobles’ partnership with Deveau is seamlessly integrated, with movement and lighting working as extensions of each other.
By that time in the evening, after fire alarm and all, I was surprised that I was still able to digest the arresting Lorelei’s Whisper, but its enchantment is undeniable. It’s a dance of mythological proportions, but it is also speaks to the power and wonder of the imagination. Whisper, unlike the other big dances on the program, seem to touch on the personal and the specific in an intimate way. I may have come to the show for Supernova, but I left thinking more about Lorelei’s Whisper.
Adam Castaneda is a dancer, writer, and arts administrator. He is the Executive Director of FrenetiCore, and performs with Suchu Dance, FrenetiCore Dance, and Bones and Memory Dance.