In Curran's works, grace, companionship

As a boy growing up in the Boston area, Sean Curran studied Irish step dancing. His Irish heritage also figured into his early choreography, including pieces for the company he founded in 1997.

He's gone global in a couple of senses, as the concert his company presented at the Tsai Performance Center on Saturday indicated. He's developed into a world–class choreographer who performs internationally. He brought four pieces to Boston, dating from 2001–04, each more ambitious than the one before.

You'd have to look hard to see much of anything stereotypically "Irish" in the program. Quite the opposite. While traditional Irish step dancing is performed with straight, still arms and torso, one signature of Curran's current work is voluptuous epaulement –– the ballet term for fluid, nuanced shoulder movements that spread to the arms and right down to the fingers, emphasizing the dancer's three–dimensionality.

Community and companionship were themes through the evening. In "Sonata: We Are What We Were," set to excerpts from Leos Janacek's "Violin Sonata," the stage is bordered by child–size chairs that outnumber the eight dancers. A reference to growing up? Perhaps. A brief circle dance flows into dances for the four women, for the four men, and for various other configurations, all seamlessly overlapping. There's a stunning section in which arms go back and forth from airplane propellers to seaweed. The work ends with the dancers facing away from us, silhouetted against a darkening sky, swinging their arms as if attempting to fly.

In "Companion Dances," Curran and company associate artistic director Heather Waldon–Arnold pay tribute to their friendship. They choreographed it individually and as a team, in a succession of dance dialogs that sum each other up and end with the dancers looking out as if to sum us up.

Curran's "St. Petersburg Waltz" solo was created in tribute to Meredith Monk's 40th anniversary as a multimedia pioneer, and it is set to her music. It's not a happy celebration piece, but one of anxiety, with wringing hands and ritualistic nodding, as if Curran were at some unseen wailing wall.

The longest work, "Art/Song/Dance" is performed to poetry by the likes of Langston Hughes and Edna St. Vincent Millay, transformed into exquisite songs by composer Ricky Ian Gordon. The moods range from an Edward Hopper–like loneliness to a specifically American exuberance and optimism somewhat reminiscent of Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring." In these chaotic times, it's a comforting work. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Curran hasn't negated the past. He draws on it. Among other things, it means that his dancers dot their "i"s and cross their "t"s, pointing their feet and stretching their legs.
- Cristine Temin, The Boston Globe, 24 January 2005