Mr Curran presented two New York premières at the Joyce, both of which had moments of interest and innovation but summarily failed to present a show worthy of my unequivocal recommendation. The first piece, Fireweather, was a partial retelling of Dante’s Inferno and consisted of seven parts. Mr Curran seemed pressed to fit so much narrative and imagery into one half of an evening, and the result was a lot of floorwork, heavy-limbed bodies, solos, and finally, tableaux. Much of the piece felt frantic and jam-packed, and I am not necessarily sure that Charles Wuorinen’s score was the match it should have been for the movement. Mr Wuorinen’s program note explains that he sought to treat the piece’s subjects with “ridicule” more than “horror”, but Mr Curran’s vision seemed less mocking and more earnest. The final section of the piece, in which the dancers finally find themselves at the foot of the Mount of Purgatory (and therefore the end of their journey through hell), was the most visually arresting: the dancers, devoid of clothing, arced and groped their way from one tableau to the next. For a few minutes, the audience was given the chance to admire the athleticism and grace of the dancers without the frenzied piano or the equally frenetic movement that resulted from the pairing.
The second piece of the night, Left Exit (Faith, Doubt, and Reason), was a spirituality quest with Jerome Begin’s original score and recorded voiceover text of Cornel West, Judith Butler, and Sunaura Taylor comprising the sonic element. The opening of the piece featured each of the dancers dressed in a costume representing different religious sects – it felt entirely too literal and even somewhat condescending to an intelligent audience. The later costumes of the piece were patterned and color-variant to the point of distraction, but at least they were comfortably abstract. The dancing mostly felt stale, although Mr Curran certainly employs several beautiful movers.
The highlight of this piece was Mr Curran’s short solo appearance, in which he improvised to a voiceover of West in a welcomingly idiosyncratic and humorous way. Staying within a rectangular shaft of light, Mr Curran speedily digested West’s text and spat it out in his rhythmic, conversational way. Mr Curran’s solo may have been devious in that it catered to the audience once more in a somewhat unsurprising way – here-is-the-choreographer-making-a-guest-appearance-in-a-surefire-way-to-make-the-audience-laugh – but it was nonetheless entertaining. (Sometheless, perhaps.)
But I must take a moment to laud Christina Robson, one of Mr Curran’s dancers. She is – and I say this with full comprehension – the modern dancer to watch of this next generation. Her ability to mold herself to any number of choreographers’ styles with ease and detail is truly exceptional. Her mastery of Mr Curran’s conversational, jittery movement in Left Exit seemed as effortless as her hamming ability in Monica Bill Barnes’ work and her seamless partnering skill in the work of Kendra Portier. It is nearly impossible to watch anyone else when she is on stage. Her presence commands attention and relaxes an audience member at once, assuring him or her that Robson is in complete control of not only her own technical facility but also the piece as a whole. I look forward to seeing Ms Robson perform often for her many choreographers over the next few years.