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Ad Hoc Ballet: The Inaugural Season

by Ilona Wall
June 8, 2007
New York, NY
Installment #4
There was an air of release after the fourth and final show of ad hoc Ballet's inaugural season at the Clark Theatre in New York. In many ways the evening was a refreshing departure from the standard small ballet company presenting its work for the first time. The feeling of "What next?" did surround the company, but it was more an artistic question for Deborah Lohse and her dancers than a logistical one.

The first novelty of the evening was the show's structure. Presented as a one act, one hour performance, the program mirrored the poetic work that helped to inspire it with numbered "Cantos" interspersed with "Verses." The Cantos were the more formal dances that were usually performed by any combination of Amy Brandt, Elizabeth Brown, and Candice Thompson. The Verses were moments of uncomfortable fidgeting and introspective tension by Lohse herself with disturbing sounds by Nathan Hubbard. Despite these sectional divisions, the program tied all the movement together as a cohesive whole. The unifying factor was the subject matter that Lohse meant this program to address: mental illness.

This subject matter is the next great novelty of ad hoc Ballet. This first season was meant specifically to address mental illness as a social issue. But rather than the typical exploration of a subject with no active follow up, Lohse urged her audiences to contribute to NAMI, the National Alliance for Mental Illness. This focus on action is a refreshing quality that applies to Lohse herself as she worked with NAMI for a few years, and it is a lovely thing to see it carried over to her company's mission. This quality makes ad hoc Ballet an organization working towards an end other than its own success and longevity. That is a novelty, indeed.

The company is comprised of three dancers that are strikingly different from one another both in physical appearance, and in their style of movement throughout the piece. Even moments of unison became three voices of one mind when performed by Brandt, Brown, and Thompson. Brandt was the malicious, aggressive and controlling voice. Brown brought a softness and vulnerability to the movement, and Thompson moved with a bright-eyed competence and curiosity that set her apart. These voices worked sometimes together, and sometimes vied for power as the evening progressed. The choreography involved more unison than I was expecting given the subject matter, but here unison worked as a forum for comparison as the intent of the movement remained unique to each dancer.

Lohse tweaked and created a considerable amount of material since the excerpt that I saw at Dance Theatre Workshop a few months ago. She has grown more comfortable in the pacing of her choreography, using pauses and stillness more effectively. Interplay between the dancers remained a significant part of her movement, and her dancers seemed to relish their moments of interaction not only with each other, but with the audience as well, drawing the audience into the dancers and their space. This is all the more crucial and difficult in a black box theatre like the Clark. The dancers rose to the challenge, and I am eager to see how they tackle new ones. In fact, I am eager to see Lohse tackle new challenges as well. I am curious what the subject matter will be of her next choreographic work, and how her voice and style will progress from here as it has in the last few months.

The evening ended with a sense of possibility that climaxed as Lohse herself crawled out of her corner to dance the canto just before the finale. In this solo, we saw the goal of her movement and all that came before. The twitching, violence and awkward positions made sense when performed by Lohse as it was possible to see a body truly manipulated by a disturbed mind. One could see the two at war, and felt the fleeting moments of peace in between. Lohse is comfortable within her own body and knows exactly how to use it toward the desired effect. She must now learn how to translate that onto the bodies of her dancers. Although her movement is still interesting to watch, the choreographic intent waxed and waned throughout the evening. The dancers did their best and held their character, but there were times when it was unclear to what end. Is it that they can't fully grasp the content because they have not had Lohse's experience working with the mentally ill? Or does Lohse need to find a new way of creating movement that is appropriate to their bodies? I don't know the answers to these questions. And neither does Lohse at the moment. But with time and development, I am confident she will move ever closer to finding them.
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