John Heginbotham’s new piece Dark Theater is an intriguingly ambiguous bit of narrative that makes very careful use of musical phrasing – unfortunately, often to the point of predictability. But his movement is fresh and welcomingly idiosyncratic, and certainly no one can accuse him of not making full use of the BAM Fisher theater.

Dance Heginbotham © Julieta Cervantes
Dance Heginbotham
© Julieta Cervantes

Mr Heginbotham’s company, Dance Heginbotham, was formed only two years ago, and the reputation he has managed to create for himself as a choreographer in that short time frame is remarkable. In a stroke of forgivable (and even welcomed) patricide, Mr Heginbotham – like Mark Morris, for whom he danced for over a decade – pays careful attention to musicality. This is mostly successful. In the first act of Dark Theater, his dancers are dressed in lime green, full-length unitards (like Dr Seuss characters, except that these unitards regrettably left nothing to the imagination) and scuttle around the stage, flopping extremities and tapping feet with a restlessness and carefree gusto that complements Satie’s rollicking and occasionally insistent music. But Mr Heginbotham’s absolute adherence to musical phrasing can become exhaustive and, at worst, predictable. A phrase of music would be repeated the number of times there were dancers: Mr Heginbotham, unfailingly, allowed each of his dancers to repeat some variation of an original phrase to each’s assigned repetition of music. There is symmetry to this, certainly, but there is also a lack of imagination. This first section was the closest to “funny,” as Mr Heginbotham’s work has frequently been characterized. (Lindsey Jones seemed to be the only one really in on any joke, however, with her appropriately poker face and seemingly complete ignorance of the travesty her floppy hands and feet were performing.)

For the second part of the piece, a piano (of all things – talk about a deus ex machina) was lowered from the BAM ceiling all the way to the floor, upon which Yegor Shevtsov ceremoniously approaching it and began playing, even as the lights slowly dimmed and eventually fell completely dark. A spotlight eventually appeared on Sarah Stanley, who was lying flat on the grated ceiling (the tension grid) of BAM, above our heads. She moved little throughout the next section, once rising to standing position, as if to observe the movement below. The rest of the dancers, now clad in Robin Hood-esque outfits, proceeded to dance, alternately, as if for her amusement and as if plotting some sort of revenge – admirably led by the ever-placid Kristen Foote.

Mr Heginbotham’s movement vocabulary is exceedingly new, full of temps de fleche and cloches, and often at hyperspeed. These are definitely moves I haven’t often seen in the modern dance world. The final scene of the piece was the most compelling to me: Ms Stanley had rejoined the group on the floor and seemed to be fighting a battle of wills versus Ms Foote – the other dancers pranced and reared like moving carousel horses, as if surveying which dancer had the upper hand at any given moment. I knew that what I was watching was compelling, and, even bordering on humorous, but I felt largely unable to answer why. Was it because the tension on stage, between the Lilliputian-esque corps of dancers and the manic Ms Stanley, felt palpable? Really, I suppose I don’t need to be able to answer that question. Mr Heginbotham is a compelling choreographer.