Andrea Miller’s Gallim dancers, in Wednesday night’s showing of Blush, seemed to teeter wonderfully on the edge of physicality’s limits, even as the emotionally exhausting piece came to an abrupt and incongruous ending.

Gallim Dance, Blush © Franziska Strauss
Gallim Dance, Blush
© Franziska Strauss

In Ms Miller’s work, the dancers are clothed in modern-day wrestling or gladiator gear (costume design by Jose Solis), with their faces and bodies covered by a fine, white dusting. There is much concaving of chests and strength-y pliés in a deep second position, and there is also much torment – in both the faces and bodies of the dancers. As the piece progresses, more and more of the white coating rubs or sweats off, revealing pink and red patches of skin, in a nice ode to the piece’s title.

Ms Miller’s dancers, much like Ohad Naharin’s Batsheva dancers (Miller, as it has been oft-mentioned, danced with Batsheva and owes some of her stylization to him), have the excellent ability to perform the same movements in slightly different, idiosyncratic ways. This ability prevents the dancers from looking like tortured robots, which is nice. The audience has the opportunity to observe small disparities while still being immersed in the piece. But on Wednesday night, the dancers seemed just a little off; granted, much of their movement is not cued by music or other easy fixes. It is often taken off the dancer who is standing the most downstage in any given spatial orientation, or by a breath or verbal cue. But it was a bit disappointing to see such a comparatively small troupe not in perfect synchronization during group work.

Vincent Vigilante’s lighting design was the real show-stealer, particularly in a late duet between Austin Tyson and Dan Walczak, with eight pooling spotlights, amidst a still-smoky atmosphere. (This was a literally smoky atmosphere; as one entered the BAM theater, one was enveloped in pleasant fogginess.) Mr Tyson and Mr Walczak loped around the space and threw their bodies at each other, as if wrestling in an alternate universe. Both men could slip from full-throttle diving and thrusting to gentle cradling easily. In a particularly moving motif, they would alternate covering each other’s eyes as they raced around the space. Arvo Pärt’s Fratres for strings and percussion as the accompaniment could’ve easily become cliché in other choreographers’ or dancers’ hands. (Or bodies, I suppose.)

But after an hour’s worth of angsty bodies and frightened, white faces, the finale of the entire cast dancing exuberantly (and, dare I say, happily) to the music of Wolf Parade – with occasional sing-alongs – felt misplaced. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy seeing the dancers let go so intimately and beautifully; for goodness’ sake, I wanted them to, after such a grief-wrung piece. And most of the audience certainly seemed to enjoy such a moment of relief, as the piece was greeted with a standing ovation. But without some sort of catalyst or choreographic explanation for a complete turnaround of feeling and movement vocabulary, I felt lost, as if I’d missed something – and spent the next few minutes scrambling to figure out how the change had occurred, rather than enjoying the dancers’ uninhibited and almost private party on stage.

Though all of Ms Miller’s dancers are superbly talented technicians, it is Frances Romo, the company’s associate director, who can best embody the squirmy, hunchbacked, gut-flinging movement vocabulary of Ms Miller. Her facial expressions are never over-wrought, and her sense of aesthetic is impeccable.