Beauty unfolded in a series of enveloping embraces between dancers Jonathan Jordan and Francesca Dugarte in Diane Coburn Bruning’s Journey (2003). The duet opened Chamber Dance Project’s New Works + program in June. A summer-only project-based company founded by Coburn Bruning in New York in 2000 and relocated to Washington, D.C., in 2014, CDP’s modus operandi is to pair high-level dancers and musicians together on the stage as equals, performing company dance works to live music.

Jordan and Dugarte — the husband and wife are both dancers with Columbus, Ohio’s BalletMet — melted in and out of partnered lifts and intertwining choreography that spread across the Sidney Harmon Hall stage like liquid gold shimmering under the soft spotlight. The moving contemporary ballet pas de deux was danced to the string quartet version of Samuel Barber’s iconic Adagio for Strings, Op. 11.

Journey was followed by the first of two music-only pieces on the program showcasing CDP’s polished string quartet. Duel, the first section of Philadelphia-based composer Chris Rogerson’s dramatic String Quartet No. 1, evoked the feel of a motion-picture car chase with runs of music phrases, which the quartet played with verve.

One of the evening’s marquee ballets, the world premiere of sought-after Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Rondo Ma Non Troppo, came next. Performed to the first allegro section of Franz Schubert’s Death and the Maiden string quartet, the quartet of dancers — Davit Hovhannisyan (Milwaukee Ballet), Julia Erickson (formerly of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre), Dugarte and Jordan — came together around a circular white table in what appeared to be competitive negotiations reminiscent of Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table (1932). Inspired by King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table legend and its solution for group equity, Lopez Ochoa presented more of a contest of individual wills than a geopolitical statement.

The dancers circled the table in unison folk-dance like patterns, leaned in and away from each other, and sat, stood and slid across the table. The dynamic in Lopez Ochoa’s choreography shifted from four individuals in harmony to those same individuals lunging at each other’s throats. Whether with the dancers lined up directly behind Hovhannisyan, who stared at the table surface as if gazing into a crystal ball while the others leaned off their line to see what he was seeing or, with their knees tucked to their chests, cowered underneath the table, Rondo Ma Non Troppo delivered more than a table dance; it opened a window into humanity.

Then, CDP violinist and cellist Sean Neidlinger performed the opening section of Hungarian composer Zoltán Kodály’s delightful Duo for Violin and Cello, Op.7.

The most unusual of the evening’s offerings and its biggest hit, the premiere of Prufrock, followed. Choreographed by Coburn Bruning and co-directed by Matt Torney, Prufrock was danced to an original pulsating electronic music score by New York-based sound designer James Bigbee Garver that he performed using two computers as his instruments. The ballet featured a cast of five dancers costumed in black suits and bowler hats like characters in a René Magritte painting.

The dancers played out imagery inspired by T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, recited live by Torney in an Irish brogue, creating non-linear moving tableaux that faded in and out of existence within pools of white light. Inside Prufrock’s surreal, black-and-white film noir world, gestural visions of dancers who seemed to be running in place, swaying back and forth and casting large shadows, came and went like snapshots of the mind — and they were glorious. The last of them saw Jordan atop a stool on his back, arms and legs paddling as if we were watching him slowly drown.

After intermission, a snowfall of white feathers silently piling onto the stage greeted the audience to open Alejandro Cerrudo’s tender duet excerpt from Extremely Close (2017), to dreamy music by Philip Glass. While performed with feeling by Hovhannisyan and former Milwaukee Ballet star Luz San Miguel, their dancing lacked the groundedness and fluidity inherent in Cerrudo’s contemporary dance movement language.

The evening concluded with a reprise of Coburn Bruning’s Songs By Cole (2017) set to music by Cole Porter performed by a jazz trio featuring scintillating vocalist Shacara Rogers. Songs by Cole was laced with humour in the form of cowboys with squirt guns in Don’t Fence Me In; with grandeur, courtesy of Dugarte’s stage-dominating black-and-white gown in Night and Day; and with melancholy, in Erickson’s mesmerizing performance in the dark Miss Otis Regrets. The ballet was a well-crafted and entertaining closer to a marvellous evening of music and dance.

— STEVE SUCATO

DI FALL 2019

Julia Erickson and Francesca Dugarte in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Rondo Ma Non Troppo
Photo: Luna Photography