The New York Times
Movement in High Gear, Intimacy Most Fleeting
August 18, 2007
BECKET, Mass., Aug. 16 - Henri Oguike has taken Britain by storm since forming his London-based modern-dance troupe in 1999. Trained at the London Contemporary Dance School and a former dancer with Richard Alston, Mr. Oguike has won numerous awards and driven many British reviewers into paroxysms of unqualified delight.
Judging by the excitement that greeted the Henri Oguike Dance Company when the group made its United States debut on Wednesday night at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival here, Mr. Oguike and his deft dancers may soon also conquer America. The Pillow's Ted Shawn Theater reverberated with cheers and even odd, barking cries of enthusiasm.
Mr. Oguike's "Second Signal" nearly makes such passion understandable. The choreography and the taiko drumming to which the piece is set combine symbiotically to form an expansive whole of inextricable parts. And "Signal" is inventively plotted, a cool, unswerving ritual for dance athletes that would look at home in an Olympics ceremony. Bodies are stretched and alert as they circle, bounce and file about a stage that looks surprisingly spacious, filled as it is with dancers and the Taiko Meantime ensemble and its big drums.
"Second Signal" opens dramatically with a soloist dancing big, expansive moves like an unaggressive martial artist, in juxtaposition with a row of crouching dancers on the opposite side of the stage from her, like runners awaiting the starter's gun. The piece ends with another woman alone onstage, rising in a last small jump in growing darkness.
That intimacy was a poignant surprise, an anomaly in an evening of "don't just stand there" choreography. In "White Space," set to excerpts from taped Scarlatti keyboard music played at a maddeningly fast and even pace by Scott Ross, the dancers milled like birds. In "Tiger Dancing," performed to music by Steve Maitland that sounded like Copland on acid, the dancers looked more like insects than prowling cats. In each piece the choreography for rooted bodies was mostly a matter of sudden falls and rises and twisting torsos that gave the performers the look of perpetually taut and tangled elastic bands. There was almost no sense of dynamic variation and pacing.
In "Expression Lines," Mr. Oguike seemed to be aiming for the shrugging intensity of the dance's guitar score by Ali Farka Touré. Performed by Mr. Oguike, the solo took him from meditation at one side of the stage to meditation at the other. He is a sympathetic performer, but this piece, too, depended on a crooked, twisting torso and inexplicable falls. Mr. Oguike never made plain why we should care about this inward-focused, self-referential work.
Guy Hoare's lighting, here and throughout the program, gave the choreography an emotional context and depth it otherwise lacked. And that is a pity, because Mr. Oguike's dancers move acutely and are clearly capable of more subtlety and nuance than are in the dances.
The Henri Oguike Dance Company performs through tomorrow at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Becket, Mass.; (413) 243-0745, jacobspillow.org.
© - New York Times Aug 2007