Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre: Fall 2010

By Salvatore LaRussa

Janna Naylor and Lisa Clementi. Photo by Johan Elbers.

BOTTOM LINE: With established pieces of dance theatre since 2004, Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre offers refined ensemble performances of modern and contemporary dance to New York audiences. Fully realized choreography rounded out with thoughtful costuming, lighting and sound, SLDT is thought-provoking, moving, and expressive.

I am a lover of story; the dance concerts most interesting to me are the ones that evoke tears and emotion, elevating my state of being to one of profound experience and heightened reality. Some of my favorite dance pieces have moved me to floods of tears and trouble catching my breath. SLDT didn't necessarily move me to such a state Saturday, but it definitely did evoke thought and feeling and transport me elsewhere.

The company's Fall 2010 concert featured two pieces: one remounting of the 2008 render (a modern dance piece centered around ritual and the religious mass journey) and the world premiere of bound (a contemporary piece exploring the club courting ritual: the individual's success and failure).

Music by Arvo Pair accompanied Render, placing the medieval location of the piece easily in the mass and lending the audience meaning of ritual and examination of faith. In three parts, the piece moves from "extraction" to "exhibition" to "restoration."  Part one, is very angular and represented the ritual most for me, but slowly the dancers start to break away from the ritual, removing themselves from the order. The second part sacrifices each dancer into a prostrate cross gently laid to the floor by the other dancers, over and over, symbolizing the many ways we show our faith to the world and to ourselves. The final part is joyous and renewed with the six dancers gathered together in a rebirth of red lighting.

What makes this piece so enjoyable for me is the absence of 2nd function (the meaning placed upon movement by miming or mimicry). I felt allowed to experience the work based on what the elements suggest to my own psyche and history with music and religion, to make up my own 2nd function meaning. Watching the dancers move in grey costumes by Brent Barkhaus, beautifully simple and monk-like, augmenting the choreography with flowing shape, added more meaning of ritual and mass as I saw alter boys and girls in their plain robes doing their tasks. The shape of the six member ensemble's movements started as an angular hexagonal dance - likening to my eye the stained glass shapes in my childhood church windows. The prostrating of each dancer laid to the floor became Jesus being taken down from the cross over and over and over, showing each dancer's sacrifice. And the fact that I was moved in the first function (that meaning which is inherent in movement and not laden with every day meaning) is what makes me recognize the piece as beautiful art.

The world-premiere second piece, bound, wasn't quite as moving. This contemporary piece in 7 parts left more to be desired. There are three sections that I found more enjoyable than the rest (part 3: the women's trio, part 5: the duet of principal dancer Janna Taylor and ensemble dance member Paul Monagham, and part 7: the solo also by principal dancer Janna Taylor).  These three parts felt more lyrical and held more story for me; they settle and breathe with more synchronicity and depth.

The other four parts feel jumbled and chaotic, which, I suppose, represents the chaotic world of the "dance club" in which bound is set. Perhaps it was LaRussa's intent to not allow focus, much like the club atmosphere, saddled with little light and crowded dance floors. Actually the description of the piece in the program lacks focus too: "... the spectator is stolen off into the chaos, confusion, and allure of nightlife. Dancers are swept away into the often tumultuous ebb and glow of attraction, noise, and the mystery of libido." It is a description of scene, but does not imply a guideline or end result. This may simply be my preference in seeing any performance art. I prefer more story and less aesthetic of locale - especially for a piece that lasts 32 minutes.

However, in defense of bound, it is a brand-spanking new piece. The possibility of revision and exploration of refinement is open for future performances, if LaRussa is interested in the piece's growth and longevity. So who knows what future showings might entail - upon another glimpse, I may love it.

Regardless, there is a multitude of creative expression being developed in this company. And it's young - it can only grow and mature with every performance. I, for one, am excited to see more in the future.

(Salvatore LaRussa Dance Theatre: Fall 2010 played at Merce Cunningham Studio, 55 Bethune Street on the southwest corner of Washington Street, through November 21, 2010.  For more info please visit