Backhausdance has just concluded a terrific weekend of performances of INCANDESCENT at The Irvine Barclay Theatre. They are a small company with a mighty personality driven by the choreography of Artistic Director Jenny Backhaus who has consistently produced her finely wrought brand of dance for audiences at The Barclay Theater and beyond. With her recent work INCANDESCENT, the company has delivered a true evening length work that charts an ambitious examination of the human spirit wrapped in the kernel of a simple metaphor. Claiming the stage with six dancers, her tribe of discovery eventually is transformed into a thronging statement of vitality and expression with eighteen additional dancers who cut loose to magnify the slow burn of the six sections in Part I of INCANDESCENT into a spree of color, light and speed.
Backhaus chooses to set her dancers in motion with neither story nor characters. There is no setting other than the sense of space that the dancers themselves carve out. Hanging above the stage are rows of dimly lit bulbs. They are a continual presence and gradually descend to be confronted eventually at eye level by the dancers. It's a simple enough statement; we glow from within in much the same way as a light bulb and project that energy in very individual ways. The opening six sections for the core of six dancers take place on a dimly lit stage. The six sections have names such as Gravity, Arc or Alight. Not much to go on but the vagueness has a way of keeping the dancing from foundering on the literal shoals of being about something. Light is about light, dancing about dancing. It's a simple formula that works for INCANDESCENT and produces a stripped down sense of motion through the bare bodies on stage.
One section has dancers ducking in and out of down pools of light. The spots illuminate them briefly as they slide through or glance off the edge of the lighted spaces. Stir, a duo for David Bagley and Amanda Kay White felt like the center of Part I. The movement is both lyrical and counter weighted with lots of contact. Overall, the movement has an improvisatory edge but there are never empty or false moments looking for a direction. Alight, which begins with the loping side to side rhythm of speed skaters, ends with sets of colored clothing fall to the stage. Part I concludes with a sense of leaving behind an elemental, protean world, a crossing of sorts.
In Part II, color, additional lighting and dancers lift the conclusion of INCANDESCENT into a more full blooded realm. The additional dancers, referred to as the chorus, interact and take over from the original cast. They are costumed in dark pants and a grey blue tops. There are a lot of them but Backhaus has managed their coming and going skillfully so that the stage seems full but not crowded. Beautiful, saturated lighting prevails here and reminds you that the illumination, created by Thomas Durante, has been an equal player all along. Atmospheric recorded music by Andrew Bird, A Silver Mount Zion, DeVotchKa and Florence and the Machine provided a rich and unified accompaniment. Always astonishing is Backhaus' attention to detail, the clarity of her choreography and the ocean going sense of design and concept. The two men in the core company, Zak Ryan Schlegel and David Bagley were also exceptional, Schlegel for his sinuosity and power and Bagley for an uncanny sense of lightness and speed. Tawny Chapman, Chihiro Sano, Amanda Kay White, Erin Weller and Liane Allison Aung completed the exceptional cast of dancers for INCANDESCENT.
It may be some time before INCANDESCENT appears again. See it if it comes your way, but in the meantime, BACKHAUSDANCE will be at South Coast Repertory in June. The company will be performing the new choreography, Duet(s), as part of the studio series.