NEW YORK -- As the lights fade, Renee Jaworski is off balance, about to fall. Otis Cook reaches out to her, but the curtain drops before the audience can see if he means to ease or hasten her descent.
It's a fitting ending for "My Brother's Keeper," an arduous, elegant meditation on how quickly support can turn to destruction. T
The dance had its New York premiere Monday night at the Joyce Theater. Choreographed by Michael Tracy in collaboration with dancers Ras Mikey C, Cook, Mark Fucik and Jaworski, it's the latest offering by Pilobolus Dance Theater, a collaborative dance company known for its athleticism. (Pilobolus performs at the Joyce through July 19. The group also will perform in Aspen, Colo., and Sante Fe, N.M.)
No doubt about it, the Connecticut-based company's athleticism is phenomenal - but so is the dancers' artistry and grace as they balance against and on each other, using their bodies as architectural elements. All three qualities were on prominent display Monday night.
As the curtain rises on "My Brother's Keeper," the four dancers form a parallelogram, swaying in circles to Christos Hatzis' eerie music, performed live by the St. Lawrence String Quartet. The onstage quartet quickly dissolves into duets, with initally cooperative lifts and structures morphing into antagonistic pairings. At one point, Jaworski and C cocoon their bodies around the heads and shoulders of Cook and Fucik, suffocating and blinding their supporters.
The memories of these betrayals linger as the dance progresses, lending an uneasy tension to less abusive moments. As the dancers grasp each other's waists, cartwheeling to form laborious but graceful human pinwheels, one can't help but wonder when they will turn on each other.
It is a testament to Tracy's choreography that, despite all the heavy lifting, "My Brother's Keeper" is so graceful. The dance is not, however, effortless. It costs the dancers to lift and support each other - though not, in the end, as much as it costs them to cast each other down.
"Symbiosis" followed a brief musical interlude of Jonathan Berger's "Eli Eli." The muscular duet starts with a jolt, as a lightening bolt illuminates the huddled and prone forms of Cook and Jaworski, naked save for skin-colored thongs and a length of orange fabric wrapped around Jaworski's chest. As they flip and curl in each other's arms, the two are, by turns, withdrawn, desperate, nonplussed and limp. Urgent in their pursuit of each other, Cook and Jaworski nonetheless seem bewildered by their intimacy.
"Walklyndon" followed, a lighthearted piece choreographed in 1971 by Robby Barnett, Lee Harris, Moses Pendleton and Jonathan Wolken. The dancers, decked out in Kitty Daly's yellow spandex costumes, skitter and stagger across the stage, running into - and over - each other in this comedy of errors and abuses.
For many in the audience, it no doubt evoked the maddening daily struggle through Manhattan's crowded streets.
After a second musical interlude, came the final and weakest dance of the night. While dealing with similar themes as "My Brother's Keeper," the aptly named "Sweet Purgatory" lacked the tension that made the other piece so riveting.
On the Net:
Pilobolus Dance Theater: http://www.pilobolus.com
Joyce Theater: http://www.joyce.org