DANCE REVIEW : Aman Mixes Modernism, Folkloric in Dean's 'Light'


During our post-modern age, Laura Dean has been supplying the dance world with clearly patterned dances of propulsively repetitious steps. Her often luminous creations have the air of folk dancing. But, as danced by Dean's own post-modern company or by the ballet companies for whom she sometimes works, these folkways resemble ones that might be done on the moon.

On Tuesday night, Dean-dancing came gently down to Earth with the world premiere of "Light," a special commission made to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Los Angeles-based Aman Folk Ensemble.

The 16-dancer, six-musician work had its first performance on the program opening Aman's weeklong season at the Joyce Theater. In the process, Dean showed New York, her home base, a dance of familiar features and unfamiliar accents.

The music and dance from Bosnia to Mexico that preceded "Light" on the 12-part program resonated with the scruples of scholarship and the rigors of thorough execution. If these typical Aman numbers made caringly planned excursions to the heart of various folk cultures, Dean's three-section offering made for something of a grander tour.

In addition to choreography, Dean is credited, as she usually is, with costume design and music, co-composed in this instance with Aman's John Zeretzke. The pleasurable balance struck between the folkloric methods of Aman and the folkish modernism of Dean comes from the mutual generosity of spirit on display.

Dressed in combinations of red, black and white that recall the palette of various folk costuming, these men (in shirts, pants and waistcoats) and women (in tank-top dresses) look like contemporary folks, not period characters.

Part I starts with two musicians, center stage, playing stringed instruments. We hear the dancers before we see them as their melodiously vocalized "ahs" resonate from the wings. A deliberate tread brings them onstage in a strong X-formation.

Part II is accompanied by an ensemble of six different kinds of drums, which set the dance pulsing and patterning in and around the central lineup of drummers.

Part III gives the 16 dancers center stage as a mix of string and drum musicians work at the side.

Even though Aman's dancers vary in build and height more than most dance troupes, they render Dean's changeable rings, flanks, foursomes and couples with confident cohesion.

When they start spinning, a signature Dean element, or interjecting little loping jumps, however, a slight stiffness and caution appears. But the momentum is not broken, only somewhat lessened. In contrast, the scuffing and percussive footwork that is also something of a Dean signature, fortifies the dance experience with a gleaming dimension all Aman's own.

"Light" is scheduled for its Los Angeles premiere in June at UCLA.

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