Review: Dana Lawton Dances at Center Stage Theater

The Bay Area Company Performed on Friday, January 3

Dance can be a rarified vision of the world: a fantasyland where bodies conform to ideal shapes and perform wondrous physical feats in perfect unison. But dance can be something else, too: a way of telling human stories with movement in place of words. On Friday night at Center Stage Theater, Bay Area–based Dana Lawton Dances took the latter approach.

Lawton’s cast was composed of four musicians and eight dancers ranging in age from their twenties to their sixties. The program, titled Beyond This Moment, consisted of many short segments of dance loosely woven together. Whether bounding around the stage in lively jigs or moving with somber concentration, the dancers were intent on each other, rarely making eye contact with the audience. This onstage engagement extended to the musicians, who remained keenly focused on the dancers, taking their cues from the release of a grip or the turn of a head.

The resulting sensation was that of eavesdropping on a conversation between old friends. With bodies old and young, slim and heavy, tall and short, these dancers spoke to each other of love affairs and great losses, celebration and grief. And the instruments spoke back, setting tones and amplifying them, listening and responding.

Though there were occasional moments of synchronized movement, the standout moments of this evening were the solos, including those that took place to a high-speed hoedown under a harsh spotlight. There, dancers took turns whipping through rapid routines, punctuating their explosive power with clear, sharp gestures. Later, older dancer John McConville had a riveting solo. From a deep lunge, he stretched his arms out so far he seemed on the verge of toppling over and then traced a wide plane in space as if searching for something once precious but long lost.

Lawton has assembled a company of soloists — an odd choice if the aim had been to present a unified whole. Instead, what this group offers is a glimpse at the rich multiplicity of human lives — and bodies and stories and joys and sorrows. In a context where difference rather than sameness is the norm, moments of connection between performers come as unexpected thrills: tiny triumphs of the human heart over the distances that separate us.

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