Since Al Germani began creating dances one year ago, the fledgling choreographer has accumulated a sum total of seven pieces--two of which are still considered works-in-progress. Last weekend, Germani packaged them all for public display at City College.
Germani was not on stage when the six-member troupe that bears his name performed its first major concert, but his presence was felt in almost every other way. The artistic director was credited in the program for sound track arrangement and costume concept, as well as all the choreography.
Not even Germani is ready to declare the company professional. The dancers and their head honcho are too short on experience and know-how to aspire to those heights. And there were no telltale signs of a bright future in this seven-piece potpourri. But Al Germani Dance Company showed plenty of determination as it gave its all at Friday's opening performance, and the audience was more than ready to meet it halfway.
Germani's choreography mixed modern movement, ballet and jazz jargon without stretching the limits of any single element or breaking new ground with the hybrid form. Emotion, not motion, is the driving force behind his expressionist style, and almost all of his work relied heavily on dark psychological themes. In fact, for one group piece--the introduction to a work-in-progress--the choreographer kept his dancers in a stationary position throughout.
Unfortunately, many of the dances were allowed to wallow in the murky excesses of melodrama, aided and abetted by program notes that proclaimed them to be "a reflective statement mirroring that which lies within us," or "a frustrative attempt to impact our own inherent oppressiveness."
Like all too many novice choreographers, Germani seemed unable to resist the temptation to explain obvious symbols and to hammer home his points with endless repetitions of overworked images.
For "Chairworks," the program notes reminded us that the chairs were a "metaphor for that which holds us back." Then Germani proceeded to take his chair-borne dancers through their paces with numbing predictability. A little lighter touch would serve him and the dancers (who threw themselves into its taxing demands with a passion), a lot better.
With no male dancers to work with, the messages about relationships are obviously skewed, but that didn't stop Germani. In "Opp," a series of dramatic encounters and desperate solos, he dressed half of the troupe's women in shirts and ties to set up his battle of the sexes.
Germani set this opus on oppression against a hodgepodge of gun blasts, drumbeats and other jarring sound patterns, but the dance never came together as an organic whole. The lighting design (which Germani obviously had a hand in as well), was another example of theatrical overkill.
In "Pas de Blues," a work that is still evolving, he paired Tina Buerkle and Marni Respicio, then let each take the limelight for a solo section. This piece showed more potential, and the dancers--decked out in leather jackets and rumpled jeans--were at their best in its gritty designs.
"Soma" (shown in an unfinished state at last summer's Dance X-Change concert), was included on this program, its focus expanded to four dancers. Buerkle was enigmatic as the ballerina, and she had competent support from the shadowy figures around her. But subtlety was not Germani's strong suit here either.
Although the choreographer calls "Flop" "a glimpse of an escape to artistry," there was little real artistry or musicality in what was seen on Friday's program. And its fast-paced dance patterns called attention to the technical deficiencies in the dancers.
The jazz-based "Tux" (with spoken text by Germani), put the whole cast in black bowler hats and set them against a red-lit backdrop for an Alwin Nikolais-style theater piece. It had its moments, but still needs work to keep it from fragmenting.
The concert sagged badly under the weight of extensive pauses as the small band of dancers made hurried costume changes, since almost every piece on the program called for four or more performers.
Perhaps, with more experience, Germani will find his choreographic stride. He has only just begun to approach dance from the vantage point of a designer. But for now, his work looks derivative, redundant, and often self-indulgent.