Elaboration and Precision

Elaboration and Precision

Sean Curran broadens repertoire; Hilary Easton applies scientific method

Call him a workaholic or simply unstoppable, Sean Curran seems to be making movement everywhere. From Broadway to Lincoln Center Theater, City Opera to Playwright’s Horizon, his extra-curricular projects defy the conventional modern dance range.

Several choreographers of course have worked with opera and some have done musical theater, but Curran seems to have it all. To be sure, the former “Stomp”-er has always been a Broadway boy at heart, but he has never discounted the art form that first gave him such a warm welcome. As a launching platform, it has served him well.

The prolific choreographer breezes into town with his likable company for a week of evening performances, including a New York and a world premiere. During the day, he’ll be choreographing “As You Like It” for Shakespeare in the Park, which opens June 25. His Joyce Theater season features “St. Petersburg Waltz” a character-driven solo for Curran set to Meredith Monk’s score of the same name that pays tribute to her grandfather. Originally performed for Monk’s 40th anniversary celebration last November, Curran has refined this dance for his company’s season.

The New York premiere of “Art/Song/Dance” is also on the bill, a suite of dances ranging from romantic to bittersweet, set to music by Ricky Ian Gordon, who will perform live along with four Broadway performers—Rosena M. Hill, Scott Murphree, Diane Sutherland and Michael Arden—singing the poetry of Langston Hughes, W.S. Merwin, Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Milay. The program includes the poignant group work “Sonata” to music by Leos Janacek; and “Companion Dances” a tender duet for Curran and founding company member Heather Waldon-Arnold.

Look for Sean Curran again in the fall at New York City Opera as well as the Met, where he’ll make his debut as choreographer for “Romeo and Juliet.”

Efficiency is antithetical to art. It is aesthetics—not cost-effectiveness—that is of prime consideration in the creative process, as contrasted from the commercial one. Modern dance in particular seems unacquainted with the concept of expediency. So it is curious subject matter that choreographer Hilary Easton chose for her latest work entitled “The Short-Cut,” inspired by the time-motion studies and scientific management theories of Frederick Taylor, an industrial expert from the early 20th century.

The work was presented May 19 through 22 at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church.

Along with her excellent collaborators, Easton has crafted a thoughtful and delightful eulogy to the dancer as worker. The hour-long piece is structured as a series of vignettes set to different pieces of suitable accompaniment by Thomas Cabaniss—percussion, strings, piano—and framed by a concise and perfectly officious text, written by Helen Schulman and performed with wonderful managerial uptightness by Steven Ratazzi.

Embodying Taylor, the physically concise Ratazzi, dressed in brown slacks, vest, tie and shoes, evaluates and measures dance sequences using his arms and an imaginary stopwatch, motivating the dancers toward greater efficacy in the choreography, which mostly means getting from A to B faster and with fewer embellishments.

Costuming by Eric Bradley, mostly denims and grays, adds uniformity to the worker collective motif, and Kathy Kaufmann’s attentive lighting takes its direction from the spatial architecture of the dance. The sweet young performers—Leslie Cuyjet, Aaron Draper, Brian Gerke, Blossom Lelani and Emily Stone—are strong and solid and they enliven the choreography with their endurance and endearing charisma.

While the movement invention palette is somewhat limited, Easton’s sense of stage movement and direction is especially keen; neither the eye nor the awe wanders. Tableaux spring and spin into action, a mellifluous unmingling of limbs as the group separates. Long reaches, circling arms, deep lunges, centrifugal lifts, leaps and weighted movement fill this repetitious aerobic lecture demonstration, in solos and duets, trios and quartets. Humor is infused into the exercises as dancers race through activities, coached on with positive and negative reinforcement by their fellow performers.

When Rattazzi begins to dance, there is an awkwardness that threatens to undermine the message, but it only serves to make it clearer. Choreography is not a science, and the only place you can achieve greater effectiveness is not in the dance, but in how it’s managed.