There are so many different kinds of dance around, but all dance could be categorized into one of two groups. The first group is "See The Music Through the Movement." The second group is "See the Movement." Perhaps the most famous modern dance exponent of "See the Movement" was Merce Cunningham, whose dancers often danced to a score composed of little more than sounds of nature and chance generated rhythms.

Gallim Dance, <i>To Create a World</i> © Yi-Chun Wu
Gallim Dance, To Create a World
© Yi-Chun Wu

Cunningham may be gone and his company dissolved, but Merce-ism persists in modern dance. That was on display at the Joyce Theater's presentation of the Gallim Dance Company, a Brooklyn-based dance group composed of seven dancers and choreographer Andrea Miller. The troupe brought to the Joyce Theater a new premiere this month, To Create a World

The commissioned score by Will Epstein sounded like something John Cage would have composed -- the dissonant electronica music juxtaposed with sounds of nature -- creaks, thunder, ocean waves, thumps. The music served as a backdrop for an extremely physical, athletic hour of dance. 

There was so much movement going on during this hour that I think no eye could have caught all or even most of the movements. The central figure in To Create a World was a tall, gangly man (Gary Reagan). The work began with his body crouched in a fetal position, and immediately moved into a post-apocalyptic world where this solitary man began a tortured, violent mating ritual with a woman (Allysen Hooks). The two crawl towards each other, and clawed at each others' bodies, wanting to connect yet unable to do so at the same time. In the background the five other dancers of the troupe moved in deliberate slow-motion, functioning like a Greek chorus in this private drama. Finally the man undulated on the floor by himself, and the woman laid on top of him. 

This grim world was reflected in the movements of Reagan, who throughout the hour-long piece used his abnormally long and flexible torso to contort his body into a variety of shapes. Sometimes he put his head on the floor and raised his legs up in an upside-down headstand. Other times he lay on the stage and thrust his hips. Sometimes he curled his body into a fetal position. At times I thought he was imitating an epileptic seizure. This was certainly a powerful, physically fearless performance from Reagan. 

There are more tender moments in To Create a World, but they are always undercut by tension and violence. In one sequence two women engage in a lengthy, erotic pas de deux. Just as they kiss a swarm of dancers pulls one of the women away and drags her around the stage by her arms and legs. It was one of the most disturbing images of the piece. An attempted male-male connection is also interrupted by similar violence. 

The final section of the piece is a contrast to the previous forty or so minutes. The dancers, who had been in scantily clad underwear, are now dressed in black pants and tank tops. The music is still electronica, but the kind you might hear in a club. The dancers' movements also become more synchronized and conventional: they could be backup dancers of a rock and roll act. Throughout this final movement the solitary man (Reagan) is not a part of this group. He is at the back of the stage, folding himself into the billowy sheet-curtain that also functions as the backdrop of the dance. 

But then the unexpected happens. The woman from the beginning of the piece (Hooks) approaches him, and they kiss. Finally, a human connection that is not interrupted by violence. They both fall into the curtain, in apparent bliss. It is an uplifting ending to what had been an extremely dark piece.

Miller's To Create a World  despite its compelling moments could also use a stronger editor. The piece is an hour long and is at times repetitive. I lost count of how many tortured, anguished solos Reagan performed. There were also segments that seemed out of place. At one point the stage is "flooded" by a stage curtain and a woman is washed away by the waves. Someone washes up ashore. I thought it would be the woman who was washed away. But no, it's the central man (Reagan) again, this time in bright orange boxers...

But then again I don't think we are intended to have all the answers. To Create a World suggests a dystopian world that confuses as much as it answers. I didn't understand everything in To Create a World, but I certainly want to see more from this choreographer and her troupe.

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