STRATA is a show to remember and nearly impossible to forget. It consists of four dance pieces all choreographed by Alwin Nikolais, an innovative all-american choreographer. Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, along with three guest artists, put these pieces together in a never before seen performance. To further set this show apart, one of the dancers was injured the day before opening night and unfortunately Ririe-Woodbury doesn’t have understudies. Alberto Del Saz, who set all of the choreography, stepped in and up to the plate. Del Saz is a former Nikolai dancer and the current artistic director of the Nikolais/Lewis Foundation for Dance Inc. He has not performed for years and to see him do so was a special treat.
Onto the show itself: it ran with three pieces and intermission followed by the fourth piece. The first piece, “Crucible,” centered around a mirrored table which dancers used to duplicate the image of their hands and feet forming shapes in accordance to the music. It started with only the fingers visible and worked its way up (or down, rather) to their butts which look fairly naked as they wore flesh colored mesh leotards for the entire first act. The piece reminded me of rainforest animals at all levels vying for survival. It was both mesmerizing and clever.
“Tensile Involvement” was the shortest piece of the evening and my personal favorite. The dancers sat in duos on benches spread across the stage and the piece seemed to be about the impatience of waiting. The movement was expansive and yet intimately confined to the benches, which they never lost contact with.
The third piece was “Mechanical Organ.” Its main feature was a series of colorful ropes suspended from above and the dancers pulled on to create massive shapes and color patterns. This piece featured a male duet that was astonishing in its difficulty and precision. It was truly beautiful to watch Juan Carlos Claudio and Bashaun Williams pull off feats of incredible strength, flexibility and concentration. Their connection was seamless throughout and more than once I caught my breath when they executed some pose that really shouldn’t be possible. There was also a lovely solo, performed by Mary Lyn Graves, where her head seemed to be only loosely attached to her body and she drifted around the stage pushed by unseen forces.
After intermission the final piece of the night, “Gallery,” commenced. Unfortunately, I have to say I was extremely disappointed. After so many interesting and beautiful pieces “Gallery” was a macabre display better suited to a haunted house that the stage at Capitol Theater. The piece centered around disturbing clown masks and neon costumes. If clowns don’t freak you out — and these ones might — the piece also dealt with gun violence and killing in general, which was disturbing. Dancers were hung and shot with no warning. The set was dark but the costumes were neon and glow in the dark: between the spinning pinwheels and floating heads it was hard to keep track of what was happening. One dance, “Dangle Dance,” felt distinctly sexual in nature with trios of dancers bending over and around each other but never touching the floor. Most of the show felt like an 80’s movie with rhythmic music, neon lights and lots of color, but this piece took it too far.
Modern dance is an interesting art form because no matter how much you know or how well prepared you think you are you never know what you are going to see. “STRATA” had moments of beauty where dancers made living look effortless as well as moments of awe from the difficulty of the acrobatic movements they pulled off. However, it also had moments of just plain strangeness. If you are a dance enthusiast or feeling particularly open-minded I highly recommend it, but if you are married to a cohesive story line or have a fear of clowns you might want to look for something else.