At 25, Collective shows brainy energy

By Christine Temin, Globe Staff, 10/26/98

Instead of rounding up a retrospective of past works, Dance Collective celebrated its 25th anniversary over the weekend with a program of mostly new and recent ones - and demonstrated that while it's Boston's oldest surviving modern troupe, it's hardly calcified. The collective offered the kind of well-crafted, brainy, and skillfully performed choreography we've come to expect from its three current artistic directors - Martha Armstrong Gray and Dawn Kramer, both present at the company's creation, and Micki Taylor-Pinney, who has danced with the group since 1986 and became a director this year.

Kramer's imagination has always been sparked by eccentric props - big cardboard boxes that once held televisions and washing machines, in the case of her 1996 "Handle With Care/Trate Con Cuidado," set to the "Winter" section of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." An elaborate and entertaining exercise in what you can do with a box, "Handle With Care" could also be read more darkly, as a glimpse at the homeless who shiver through the winter in makeshift quarters. Mostly, though, it's a sunny dance and an occasionally acrobatic one, culminating in the rescue of someone trapped inside this impromptu architecture.

Kramer also contributed two heartbreakers. She created "The Body Hesitates" as a tribute to Carlo Rizzo, one of the most distinctive modern dancers Boston has seen and a mainstay of the collective for over a decade. Rizzo now suffers from arthritis, which forces him to walk with a cane. In addition to a commissioned score by Jeff Talman that weaves in excerpts from Bach's "Goldberg Variations," the sound includes a spoken text about Rizzo's struggles to cope with pain. His gestures are slow and sometimes spasmodic, but he maintains the majesty he's always had onstage: His bulk and regal bearing convey an integrity that is even more impressive now. Kramer lightens what might be a dance that's too despairing with a nightclub chorus that also features canes, an allusion to Rizzo's role as one of the Original Roxy Dancers.

In her 1998 "What We Here Possess," Kramer mixes traditional Appalachian and Celtic music for voice, fiddle, and percussive spoons with a duet for herself and Sun Ho Kim and a stage filled with a field of white feathers, standing on end. The music, both catchy and melancholy, is performed by Jeff Davis and Bridget Fitzgerald, who are also important visual presences in the piece. Kramer and Kim are an excellent partnership; it matters not a whit that she's old enough to be his mother. Both of them dance with a juicy, weighted lyricism. Some of the choreography unfolds with a slowness reminiscent of Butoh dancing. The second most poignant moment is when Kramer rolls over the feathers, mowing them down as she goes. Even more affecting is the finale, when she carries Kim offstage, a moment hauntingly like the ending of Balanchine's "La Sonnambula."

When they started out a quarter-century ago, the founders of Dance Collective couldn't have foreseen themselves as part of a movement toward accepting and appreciating older dancers. That they've become, though. Whole companies nowadays are built around dancers who once would have been considered past retirement age. Watching the 53-year-old Kramer dancing with eloquence undiminished if different from that of a decade ago, I couldn't help hoping we'd all be around for a celebration of Dance Collective's 50th birthday.

This story ran on page C10 of the Boston Globe on 10/26/98.

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