Curran Company steppin' it up

What a shame yesterday afternoon that Sean Curran Company's second show of the weekend was canceled due to the snow. On Saturday night, the group gave a classy performance at the Tsai Performance Center that proves it has transformed itself significantly since April 2001, when it last appeared in Boston.

Some local fans will remember that Sean Curran Company gave the final performance presented by Dance Umbrella, and Curran finished that show with his ever-popular "Folk Dance for the Future (Traditional Methods/Postmodern Techniques)," a signature work that he seems, finally, to have shaken. Bank of America Celebrity Series and the Wang Center presented Curran's company at the Tsai, and the program began with a very different sort of folk dance, the introspective "Sonata: We Are What We Were," set to music by Janacek.

The dances Curran made between 1997 (when he founded his company) and 2001 had a certain cautionary aspect. In his own emphatic solos, he was more than willing to wear his heart on his sleeve. But Curran acted as a protective parent when it came to his company members, framing them in highly formal works that gave us only occasional glimpses of who the dancers are as everyday people.

In "Sonata" one sees an interdependent community of four men and four women who seem to have endured some collective trauma. Feeling and sentiment arise unconsciously through the straightforward organization of events: a rigorous male quartet, a harmonious female quartet and then transmutations of the material through a series of unexpected pairings. The dance serves well as a companion piece to Curran's newest effort "Art/Song/Dance," which focuses more on individual loss.

"Art/Song/Dance" is an epic work in a Broadway idiom, performed to Ricky Ian Gordon's passionate settings of poems by Langston Hughes, Edna St. Vincent Millay and others. At first the quasi-narrative and direct emotion is perplexing - can this be true modern dance? Curran bravely forsakes symbol and metaphor and goes instead for a sudden punch to the gut.

In between these two well-crafted ensemble works was the mesmerizing "Companion Dances," choreographed and danced by Curran and Heather Waldon-Arnold, and the deeply expressive solo "St. Petersburg Waltz," set to a piano score by Meredith Monk. The latter showed Curran vacillating between fallen peasant and obedient soldier, with facial expressions that formed a Kafkaesque catalog of suffering and alienation.

Sean Curran Company, at the Tsai Performance Center, Boston, Saturday night.
- Theodore Bale, Boston Herald, 24 January 2005