Choreographer Diana Pettersen is doing something different in the dance world. Not only does she consistently push new limits and explore new styles with her own choreography, but she takes a proactive approach to creating opportunity for emerging choreographers like herself. Diana stages several performances a year, featuring a wide array of dance makers and companies in addition to her own Sans Limites Dance. The participating choreographers are selected based on the merit of their work and are not asked to ante up the kind of application fee that typically represents a frustrating burden to artists in a chronically cash-strapped industry. The latest Sans Limites show at the Connelly Theater was as variegated as ever and even included optional Master Classes with some of the featured choreographers for those interested in getting into the movement themselves.
Diana’s two pieces in this show went in a very conceptual direction. In the first, “How is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?,” one person sat at the back of the stage, typing at an imaginary typewriter, while the other dancers, knotted together in a dense bunch, collectively evoked (to my mind) the mechanics of the typewriter itself. Every now and then one of the dancers would break off a bit from the mechanical group with beautiful, graceful movements, like the creativity that flows through writing (on a good day). There was something, I thought, amusing and lighthearted about the piece overall even though it was presented with a serious aspect.
Diana’s second piece, “In My End is My Beginning,” used visceral movement to convey an array of intense emotions. In the first part, one half of the dancers forcibly pushed away the other half who had clung to them (literally) from the start. By the end of the last part, the whole group ganged up on a single dancer in an oppressive, robotic mass and repeatedly clapped their hands over her mouth, staring straight ahead, as she pushed their hands away. This assault lasted several minutes before she broke free and ended the piece with an alarming out-loud scream at the edge of the stage.
Although Diana has explored abstract, minimalistic and other contemporary modes of choreography in the past, these two pieces felt, yet again, like a new and exploratory direction. What will she come up with next? I certainly look forward to finding out.
A few other highlights of the show included “Broland,” “Between the Two” and “Zealot.” “Broland” was a funny and colorful “observation and deconstruction of stereotypical male behavior.” I loved the surprisingly smooth style of the piece, which was not at all what I would have expected from the concept. The funky jungle sound of Barbatuques blended perfectly with a somehow animalistic (at times almost apelike) quality of movement that was yet constantly flowing and graceful. The female dancers portrayed a sort of aimless male machismo with a mocking tone that, in my (albeit female) opinion, never felt too mean-spirited. It was truly delightful, and I’ll definitely be following choreographer Ashley McQueen going forward.
“Between the Two” was a fluid and beautiful lyrical duet. It struck me at some point while I was watching that the female dancer (and choreographer), Jessica Ray, was a good representation of how the ultimate aesthetic of physique comes not from simply having a formulaic willowy ballet body but from solidity of technique, gracefulness and adept usage of the body as an instrument of expression. Her movements flowed so naturally that I found myself truly in awe of her physicality. Her partner, Ricardo Rique-Sanchez, likewise had excellent technique and natural fluidity that served as a beautiful complement. Jessica, too, I hope to see perform again.
“Zealot,” on the other end of the emotional spectrum, was creepy. Choreographer Susie McHugh, one of Sans Limites’ own talented dancers, effectively infused the theater with a sense of fear and dystopian foreboding. There was no storied narrative to the piece yet many specific impressions. Her dancers, dressed in simple colorless shifts, evoked, for me, the idea of some kind of compulsory factory labor enforced through fear. There were definite religious overtones (think Inquisition, not pretty stained glass and hymns) and some sexual undertones that came through, most memorably, in the short-lived paroxysms that would sometimes interrupt the dancers as if involuntarily, revealing a sort of wild desperation, maybe a deep need for freedom from their downtrodden oppression and for control over their own bodies. As always, I’m trying to put words to the deep impressions made by an art form that communicates through movement, not pinpoint exact choreographic intent – so the intent, and interpretations of other audience members, could definitely differ. It would be interesting to discuss with the artists involved and/or with other viewers. All in all, it was a powerful and impressive piece – particularly for a choreographic debut. I hope Susie will find time to choreograph for another show soon, in addition to her dancing.
There were several other choreographers featured in the Sans Limites winter season that I would encourage everyone to check out as well. Find more information about this past show on the Facebook event page, and follow Sans Limites so you can catch their next season.