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Letter from New York 2, 5-9: Transitions
Curran goes with the current and finds the flow

By Catey Ott
Copyright 2008 Catey Ott

NEW YORK -- For more than a decade, Sean Curran has been distinguished by his eloquently idiosyncratic theatrical solos. He is 100% present and unreservedly honest while projecting his body, mind, and spirit through the characters he brings to life on the stage. His innate musicality and sense of rhythm, evocative and imaginative shape-making, and a movement style that draws equally on gestural originality and technical finesse make him an outstanding dance artist.

Since 1997, when he founded his own company, Curran has also been exploring group choreography. Through this work, he further developed his sense of physicality and style, continued to be inspired by themes close to his heart, and found a systematic way of making dances that made sense to him. In Curran's early ensemble work, his sweet, clever, highly committed and dedicated personality came through, yet his divine theatricality and soloist sensibility had not yet fully translated into his dancers' aesthetics.

In his latest evening of work for the Sean Curran Company, seen April 25 at Dance Theater Workshop, the choreographer shows great evidence that he has clearly found a bridge connecting his solo work to his company work, notwithstanding that, as he himself acknowledges, the generation gap between he and his dancers has widened.

Well then, to reference a Shawn (Ted) of another era, call him Papa Sean because Curran is bridging the generation gap with better than ever artistic direction, as evidenced in the performance quality of his dancers. His present company wonderfully embodied three-dimensional personas while also revealing themselves as tremendous dancers and technicians to deliver a breakthrough program with great clarity, maturity, and strength of character.

The extravaganza opened with "Fire Weather," a work in progress which began with six nearly naked dancers sitting on the floor in an aligned cluster, their backs to the audience. The performers then separated and dissolved into the floor to a dissonant piano score by Charles Wuorinen.

Articulate and fully embodied solos, duets, trios, quartets, and eventually a full group section took turns filling the performance space. The dim lighting, by Joe Doran, illuminated the skin of the dancers while the low, moody music, full of quick and quirky nuances, fit Curran's motifs quite well.

A theme of togetherness versus isolation hovered over the dance, while clean rhythms, precise shapes, an energetically contained flow between movements, a quick yet sustained sense of timing, and fully-realized physicality were present in all six dancers. Annie Boyer, Winston Dynamite Brown, Evan Copeland, Elizabeth Coker Giron, Jenny Rocha, and Aaron Walter seemed to be creating the music with their movements while emitting energy from every pore of their bodies. The nearly naked idiom allowed their starkly beautiful human forms to be highlighted, and this seemed appropriate, but may not be entirely necessary for the piece to be fully realized.

"Aria/Apology," created in 2005, was set to authentic voice-over confessions to a variety of crimes (as assembled by Alan Bridge in "The Apology Line"), layered over the breathtaking arias of Georg Frideric Handl. The cast, including Nora Brickman, Heather Waldon, Kevin Scarpin, Brown, and Copeland, used movement and emotionality to embody the swells and silences of the voice and the instrumentation in the arias. The choreography was just as carefully designed to match the intonations and vocal rhythms of the confessors' speeches.

The contrast of the confessions with the arias was striking, which was ingenious on Curran's part, for there is such a spiritual release in the ritual of confession, but even spookier, he insinuates that the crimes invoked may have had their own surging crescendos while actually being committed. An image of a river evoked by some dancers rolling in a diagonal line on the floor while others waded over them was inviting, suggesting they were being cleansed of the crimes, which ranged from sexual transgressions to killing to childhood deceit. Especially in this piece, the dancers emitted the Curran knack of being fully present in the projection of semi-uncomfortable emotions.

The Sean Curran Company's Francesca Romo, Winston Dynamite Brown, and Evan Copeland in Curran's "Force of Circumstance." Julieta Cervantes photo copyright Julieta Cervantes and courtesy Dance Theater Workshop.

In the lively finale, "Force of Circumstance" (2007), Frascesca Romo joined the rest of the troupe and live musician/composer Christopher Antonio William Lancaster in an exuberant fete. True to Curran form, each dancer was given a solo, which was dynamically performed alone or simultaneously with others, and then the dancers broke off into groups riffing on their solos and making canons, variations, danced conversations, and partnering material out of their movements. They exuded a playful essence as they jumped, leaped, and tag-teamed with quick-action fervor about the space. Lancaster's innovative and vibrant multi-layered music, made up of overlapping rhythms, echoes, and cello arrangements, created a wild landscape for the performers to depict with their bodies as they charged through the space. The bright lights shone on the solid-colored, form-fitting, functional but not quite fashionable, streamlined turtlenecks of the dancers.

This final work was inspired, Curran has said, by the generation gap between himself and his dancers, and the veteran Scarpin seems to be acting as his onstage representative, standing off to the side for a few moments to observe a group dance, as if he were the director, until being swept back into the mayhem. Again, though a generation gap between director and dancer is inevitable over time, Curran's development as a director seems to have evolved into a meaningful artistic relationship with his dancers, bringing authenticity to this piece's theme.

The final image, almost an afterthought, has Scarpin breaking into a brief and quirky gestural solo after the other dancers have stopped moving, almost like the flourish with which a painter signs his name to his work in satisfaction at its completion.

(Disclosure: I met Sean Curran in 1994 while I was an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and he was on tour in Milwaukee with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company Company. I moved to New York in 1995 and joined Soundance Repertory Company, where Curran was a resident choreographer. After dancing in his work there, I joined Sean Curran Company as an understudy in 2000 and performed with the troupe on occasion over the next year. In the meantime, I saw nearly every performance the company presented in New York until I returned to Milwaukee to pursue a graduate degree in dance in 2004. In Milwaukee, I was able to catch Curran twice in solo programs. The performance reviewed above was the first I'd seen by the company since 2003.)

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