Lydia Johnson Dance at the Ailey Citigroup Theater

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Undercurrent

Lydia Johnson Dance
Ailey Citigroup Theater
June 6, 2019

Playing It Very Safe

It was with relief that I greeted the final number on the program. Undercurrent, set to music by Henryk Gόrecki, woke up, enlivening me, the audience at large and also seemingly the dancers who had previously drifted through a series of works that I found bland and somnolent. Undercurrent raised levels of power and energy with repeated prancing steps, first danced by groups of women and later by the company’s men. There were arabesques, swirls and a hint of background, a sort of pale, starry sky via lighting by Renee Molina. The work was reminiscent of folk dancing with groups joining and separating, coming together and splitting apart. Even so, a movement that had been on view earlier—an arm cradling the head, often repeated by all the dancers, sometimes separately, sometimes as a group and occasionally in a wave à la sports fans in the stands—showed up here as it had in every one of the earlier works. However, the red shirts on the men were a welcome jolt as was the eddying of the women’s red skirts that added animation and vibrancy. Also welcome was the more rapid pace of the music, a delightful contrast to the almost-too-tasteful earlier selections.

Lydia Johnson Dance 2018 UNDERCURRENT (premiere) from Lydia Johnson Dance on Vimeo.

Both Laura Di Orio and Katie Martin-Lohiya are tall, blonde and captivating. They lit up Undercurrent as they did other pieces in the evening. All the company members, as well as guest artist Craig Hall, a former New York City Ballet soloist, are lovely to watch but my sense is that they are capable of more passionate, intense dancing although any shortcomings seemed due to the choreography rather than the dancers’ individual capabilities. Lydia Johnson, who choreographed all four of the performance’s offerings, doesn’t push any envelopes so the first three of the four works tended to blur. Clearing, the opening dance, summoned a feeling of tenderness but it was muted and failed to develop. In Trio Sonatas, even Handel’s music and recorded singing by tenor Ian Bostridge didn’t spark much energy. Laura Di Orio, Chazz Fenner-McBride, MinSeon Kim, Katie Martin-Lohiya, Jacob Taylor, Malik Williams, Erin Gin, Catherine Gurr, Michelle Siegel and Ali Block responded well to one another but echoed poses (including the arm over the head) and stomach clutches in a bent over position that often ended with the dancers crunching down onto the floor were monotonous. 

Ms. Johnson has been heralded for her “skill at matching {ballet} music to movement.” For me, she doesn’t so much match music and movement but allows the music to run exist on its own plane as her dancers bend and fold or the men enter “dragging” the women from their shoulders—again and again. The steps although somewhat fresh at the start are not very interesting; as they continued, watching became tedious. Every movement from Ms. Johnson is organized and clear but there isn’t a hint of chaos or drama. Control is a wonderful, often enviable quality, but Lydia Johnson Dance makes too much of it. Overall, the evening’s work was too safe and held in to raise any back-of-the-neck hackles. Johnson is good at what she does but spread over a full evening her work felt pale and incomplete. More shifts of rhythm and pacing might make a fuller, richer series. 

The company, founded in 1999, mixes ballet into a contemporary approach. Lydia Johnson is noted for her sense of “quiet drama” and although her work is predominately abstract, some gestures create a strongly felt sense of human tenderness. Lydia Johnson Dance is strongly committed to increasing awareness of and involvement in contemporary dance and, through its Scholarship Fund, enables financially disadvantaged young people the opportunity to study dance and choreography together.

About the author

Mari S. Gold

Mari S. Gold is a freelance writer who contributes to many magazines and websites. Her blog, But I Digress… , on cultural events, travel, food  and other topics is at www.marigoldonline.net. She lives in New York City.

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