Four intriguing and intelligent dances whose choreography, musical scores, and sensibilities were culled from influences spanning 100 years constituted Pennington Dance Group’s Traversing Time/s.

Five dancers in filmy cape-like garments flowed onstage for The Goodman Dances, choreographed by John Pennington with music by Alexander Zemlinsky, whose art songs were inspired by period Germanic poetry and cogitate on the nature of love. Detailed, nuanced, and beautiful, the dance was an evocative, classically modern piece imbued with naturalistic movements and a soft, precise fluidity that’s often more difficult to achieve than an oh-so-showy athleticism. In solo after solo, the dancers embodied elements of nature, with hands fluttering and feet skittering like autumn leaves and with draperies that floated behind like the wings of doves.

Li Chang Rothermich’s solo crackled with energy from head to toes, an inner fire burning through fierce barrel turns and strong slow balances. By contrast, Michael Szanyi brought sprightly timing and a graceful expressionism to his solo, deftly emoting his character to create a visual poem.

Choreographed by Pennington with music by Mary Lou Newmark and Edgar Rothermich, Overlay was originally a collaboration with the London-based Yorke Dance Project. Here Pennington gave his modern moves a slight contemporary feel, and the dancers embraced them with a clean, effortless cohesion. Backed by the score’s rather jarring, techno beat, they edged in and out of spotlights and swung back and forth like pendulums engendering tension and a weighted serenity born of confidence: These dancers seem mature beyond their years, and that emotive quality played well in the intimate space of ARC.

Pennington danced the iconic solos of Tänze vor Gott, choreographer Harald Keutzberg’s 1927 dark jewel, reprised and with new choreography by Lew Thomas and Pennington, with music by Paul Des Marais based on the original scores by Friederich Wilckens. In much the same way that Baryshnikov can command a role—and a room—by the simplest step or sweep of an arm, Pennington wowed with his opening moves: a slow, stately turning of his head, the slight gesture of a hand to his face. The intensity of emotion pierced the air. It’s a silent scream of a dance, a work in which the costume (here a stone-grey tunic and cape) sculpts its wearer—expressing tension, anger, fear as it whips and binds, much like the shroud in Martha Graham’s 1930 Lamentations. Pennington’s swirling cape unfurled like fate as his clasped hands pled; it spilled around him like wet cement when he fell forward to the ground in supplication.

At first glance a puff of a piece, the premiere of PODCAST—with extra text by the cast, a witty sound collage by Pennington, and score by Tom Peters—proved its worthiness in the end. It was an interesting juxtaposition to follow such heavy drama with seeming fluff, but while the dancers romped in cartoon color jogging suits and bright T-shirts reacting to fictionalized podcasts, they began to take on a cultish cheerfulness that engendered questions about the podcasts’ meaning.

While Tänze vor Gott explored the angst of the inner, PODCAST offered a sendup of the outer: today’s focus on attention, expression, going with the crowd. The not-so-silent scream, perhaps? In the end, Pennington’s deft choreography had the dancers stumbling backwards like zombies, one hand on their headsets and one hand outstretched toward the audience. Are podcasts the genesis of the possible zombie apocalypse everyone is talking about, or do they just represent our ongoing quest for self-expression? Is it healthier to hold it in or to let it all hang out? Perhaps not even Pennington knows the answer.

Traversing Time/s

Pennington Dance Group at ARC Pasadena

Reviewed by Pamela Hurley Diamond | ArtsinLA.com

No Frame

Photo by Frances Chee

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