Take off with them

Washington’s foremost contemporary dance company will bring its variegated bag of tricks to the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater for a special two-night weekend engagement Saturday and Sunday. The mixed repertory production, titled “New Voices,” is composed of works by pioneers on the cutting edge of modern dance and is bolstered by a piece from an established choreographer of the Martha Graham Company. The Washington Ballet’s Jason Hartley, Karen J. Reedy of the Mark Morris Dance Group and CityDance’s own Ludovic Jolivet are among those who supply the avant-garde tone, while Jane Dudley’s 1938 solo harkens back to contemporary dance in its nascent period. Classical ballet choreographer Vladimir Angelov and the company’s artistic director, Paul Gordon Emerson, will also take great lengths to demonstrate the ensemble’s unique combination of agility and creative dexterity.

First on the bill is “Deep Surface,” by Vladimir Angelov of the Kirov Ballet. A septet drawn in the abstract but based on a very real time and place, the piece examines the fragility and miracle of life. Inspired by the events of September 11, 2001, Angelov’s vision remains detached enough so as not to leave too many uncomfortable seats in the theater. No less haunting, though, are the means by which he fills the stage with fluid, histrionic movement: it depicts something terrible has happened, and his dancers smartly pantomime the immensity of fright and hurt. But the unerring sense of recovery is at the heart of “Deep Surface,” which is as thoughtful a title as it is a dance. No matter how heavy the pain, no matter how close to penetrating it comes, what lies beneath the surface is stronger and ultimately uplifting – the human spirit.

“Harmonica Breakdown” is Dudley’s signature work, also with reality as its basis. The music of Blues harmonica player Sonny Terry served as a stimulus and motivation for repressed Americans of the early 20th century. As is tradition with the house of Graham, volumes are said with minimal body language, and in very little time.

Paul Gordon Emerson’s “Message, a Song of Sarajevo” is a staple in the company’s repertory. Originally staged in 1997 and revived again and again since, the modern ballet still maintains the potent and sympathetic (if a little maudlin) mood. The dancers fold over one another in a single unit at some times, only to splinter into individually broken pieces at other times.

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