Cherylyn Lavagnino’s Darkness, Shadows, Silence program at Danspace, St. Mark’s Church, was refreshingly youthful: the company itself, Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance, is less than ten years old, and most of Ms Lavagnino’s dancers appear to be either current students or recently graduated professionals. Though this younger cast occasionally struggles to find its groove, it is invigorating to see so many young performers – not yet jaded by the professional dance scene – enjoying their performance.

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance © Ella Bromblin
Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance
© Ella Bromblin

Ms Lavagnino’s first piece, Triptych, with its Baroque and religious overtones, felt perfect for Danspace’s converted church setting. Her purposely two-dimensional, bas relief-esque choreography carefully followed Francois Couperin’s Troisième Leçon à deux voix in structure. Ms Lavagnino opted not to seat the audience in the round, as if often the practice at Danspace, and three panels of woodland photographs by Betsy Weis lined the back of the space. Clad in long, lavender dresses with beatific smiles upon their faces, the women in this piece managed to convey a sense of calm and etherealness even as they spun in shapely attitudes with curved port de bras and were lifted high overhead by their male counterparts. Ms Lavagnino proved herself a master of exits and entrances: the piece opened with the lovely Claire Westby in the loft of the church in profile, and her sudden disappearance and later reappearance on the ground floor, as with the many comings and goings of the large cast, were never conspicuous or superfluous.

Treize en Jeu, Ms Lavagnino’s second piece, was an entirely different venture: the men wore grey vests and the women, sparkly black unitards that ended mid-thigh. It was a saucy, angular piece of popped heels and sultry poses that required lightning-fast precision and no detail left unfinished. Ms Lavagnino’s cast succeeded best near the end of the piece, when two lines of dancers entered on shallow diagonals from upstage right and left, flipping and pivoting their bodies 180 degrees on a dime, splaying wrists and arms exactly to a low V, with a foot extended into tendu devant.

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance © Ella Bromblin
Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance
© Ella Bromblin
The women wore pointe shoes, but it would be easy to see Ms Lavagnino’s decidedly balletic influence even without them – she borrows from the ballet lexicon but freshens it with spice and rapid-fire partnering. Ms Westby again impressed, always managing to complete each movement fully, despite the speed required, and Elliot Hammans proved himself an agile and fluid mover, comfortable with both intricate ballet steps and more contemporary floor work.

In the final and most recently choreographed piece, Ms Lavagnino used Kim Thúy’s novel Ru, about a post-Vietnam war political refugee, as source material. A program note stated that Tai Chi served as a movement influence. Each of the female members of Ms Lavagnino’s cast took turns in the titular role, which felt much fresher than going the route of assigning one dancer the role with the rest of the cast as the corps. This piece was more lyrical than the other two, the dancers alternately finding solace in their partnerings with each other or rebuffed physical contact. The steps of the church behind the stage space served nicely as a dimly lit, distant backdrop, as when the dancers traversed them laterally – occasionally stumbling and helping each other up.

In each piece, Ms Westby was the standout, a whirling dervish who somehow found that difficult balance of seemingly losing herself in the movement but never losing control. Ms Lavagnino may have a young company and young cast members, but she has plenty to work with here.