It is for artists like David Dorfman that the 92nd Street Y's Stripped/Dressed program (curated by Doug Varone) must have been created. Mr Dorfman is a rare choreographer who can speak intelligently and accessibly about his work, peppering his remarks with pleasing anecdotes and a wonderful command of the room. Rather than further obscuring his process and product, he is able to enlighten his audience – as is the intention behind this festival set-up, in which choreographers spend the first half of the evening explaining how they and their dancers work, followed by a more formal performance in the second half.

David Dorfman in Lightbulb Theory © Julie Lemberger
David Dorfman in Lightbulb Theory
© Julie Lemberger

Mr Dorfman chose to break down his Impending Joy (2004) and show his Lightbulb Theory (also 2004) in the second half. Both are traveling with his company on its upcoming US State Department-sponsored tour to Turkey and Middle Eastern countries. Impending Joy was a bit of darker Dorfman fare, set against a vaguely war-like backdrop, with constant pressures by members of the cast upon each other to fulfill undesirable tasks or to keep going, even when near exhaustion. Before the piece began, audience members were asked to complete the sentence "This is where..." and write their answers on individual white pickets; these pickets were later inserted into a bush of tangled wire, occasionally plucked out and read aloud by the cast. The piece felt a bit under-rehearsed, but I suppose this is natural, considering the nature of the first half of the evening and also that one of the eight Dorfman dancers was missing. Christina Robson – new to Mr Dorfman's company, I believe – infused every moment of her solo with intention and a quietly appropriate devastation. Karl Rogers, meanwhile, somehow manages to convince his very long limbs to finish each movement – no matter how fast – completely and elegantly.

Dante Brown, Christina Robson, Karl Rogers, Simon Scott-Train in Lightbulb Theory © Julie Lemberger
Dante Brown, Christina Robson, Karl Rogers, Simon Scott-Train in Lightbulb Theory
© Julie Lemberger

What I enjoy most about this company is its easily evident camaraderie – something that is obviously fostered by Mr  Dorfman himself. (Before the show began, he gave each of his dancers a hug and a kiss, individually.) It is a pleasure to watch them warm-up together and interact with each other, trying to recall certain moments of choreography or rehearsing a difficult lift. When Mr Dorfman – attempting to explain how parntering works within the parameters of his troupe – asks his dancers to suddenly pair off and demonstrate a few lifts off the cuff, it was as if he had suddenly released a sackful of puppies into the space: Without a moment's hestitation, dancers were flying and rebounding and rolling, with a wonderful organicness. (Mr Dorfman has proved himself, again and again, the master of partnering – he has no equal.) It is curious that he made a point of stating that the impetus behind the partnering found in his company is rarely, if ever, sensual: “We just don't really do that, somehow,” he admitted. Maybe this is what gives his moments of weight-sharing a refreshing originality – that it comes from a place of playfulness or even antagonism, but never from the hackneyed let-us-tell-a-love-story place.

The second piece, Lightbulb Theory, was presented in full, with light cues and costumes and formality. Mr Dorfman, in his program notes, refers to this piece as a “letting go of a loved one” (he mentioned his father's impending death at the time of the piece's creation), juxtaposed with the idea of “sweet non-irony.” The piece began with a solo by Mr Dorfman, wearing a long overcoat and plenty of jewellery – he conjured up a sleazy one-man pawn shop at moments, but this seemed to work. Mr Dorfman is one of my favorite performers to watch; he has warmth and authenticity, never phoniness or un-called-for dramatics, and a very careful command of his considerable facility. He took careful and repeated stock of his jewellery and spun his arms like windmills, periodically falling to the ground in a moment of physical ailing, which surprised his character.

Raja Feather Kelly, Karl Rogers, Kendra Portier, Christina Robson in Impending Joy © Julie Lemberger
Raja Feather Kelly, Karl Rogers, Kendra Portier, Christina Robson in Impending Joy
© Julie Lemberger

The piece enjoyed an unusual trajectory of bittersweet followed by extraordinarily cheerful followed by bittersweet again, only to repeat itself over and over. Though moments of it felt forced or even borderline cheesy – the dancers often smile as they dance, and it is never clear if this is out of pure enjoyment or stipulated by the narrative of the piece – Mr Dorfman, as always, managed to undercut any saccharine-ness with a moment of forced and welcome reflection. The motif of the piece, hands touching shoulders with a break at the elbow, first came off as infantile but later took on an unexpected sweetness. Similarly, the incredibly dynamic Kendra Portier had a solo toward the very end of the piece, in which she crossed her arms across the left side and then the right side of her body, again and again, first shouting an indistinct word which eventually morphed into the word "help" and which again morphed into the word "hope." It caught me off guard but immediately made sense.

It is there that I think Mr Dorfman's greatest talent lies: He can still surprise.

****1