New York

Laura Dean Musicians and Dancers

Joyce Theater

Laura Dean's mesmerizing evening of dance was proof, if proof is needed, that extraordinary talent grows in extraordinary ways. Opening with golden-costumed dancers, Sky Light, 1982, provided a précis of Dean's earliest vocabulary: the alternating heel, step, heel, step of dancers in a warm-up line (their palms facing the back wall and their elbows hinged at right angles); the dizzying, dervishlike spin of figures—solo or in formation—stirring up air like battalions of tornadoes across an unencumbered plain; and the taunting sideways bounce (knees bent, feet wide apart) of a boxer readying for the punch. Together these signature movements serve as a blue­ print against which to measure the evolution of Dean's choreography.

Sped on by two onstage drummers, Sky Light emphasized the ritualistic qualities of Dean's dance; her repetitive hand gestures which take their shape from classical Indian dance and her flat-footed stamping which echoes African tribal ceremony. Combined with some of the keynotes of European training— leg extensions, turn­ out, and arc-shaped arm movements—her early-'80s choreography was an exhaustive investigation of these combinations. Just when it seemed that there might be an end to the variables—carefully calculated on paper in detailed notation—Dean's work broke free of its basic architecture. While the early works faithfully followed two-di­mensional patterns, creating simple geometries on stage, more recently she has shaped the space into tunnels and craters. Formerly, hips remained steady despite the urging of vibrating drums, now they swing and sway with an abandoned sexuality . And while previously Dean's technique depended on counting steps and on a frontal, symmetrical concentration, in the current work bodies arch, and tops and bottoms twist in different directions, sweeping past one another in abstract and expressionistic floor designs.

With eight dancers dressed in blood red—the women in full-skirted dresses wearing the neatly buckled-and-heeled shoes of the Spanish dancer, the men in wide-cut pants and sleeveless tunic tops— Ecstasy,1993, even suggests a narrative. Carmen-like in their demeanor, the women leap and pirouette at impossible speed along invisible edges of a large rectangle, while in the center the men partner each other in a quite separate sequence of low turns. Lined up in rows behind one an­ other, at either end of the stage and at right angles to the audience, their rapid sidelong movements create a momentary cross­ hatching as the dancers meet and pivot in the center, adding just a touch of the electricity that fires Flamenco.

Infinity, 1990, was the true climax to the evening. Ten dancers now dressed in white, their arms swinging high above their heads in huge arcs that propelled them through the air, produced a kaleidoscope of movement and design. Each pattern held for only seconds, before disintegrating into a shower of sharply angled forms, until finally a wall of dancers advanced to the front of the stage where this dazzling work ended in a flash of white light and a crescendo of drums—a finale that celebrated the confidence and the supreme control maturity can bring.

RoseLee Goldberg