New York Times Review

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DANCE | DANCE REVIEW

A Troupe and Its Leader, Bodies Willing, Try to Gain a Foothold
MorDance in a Triple Bill at the Sheen Center
By SIOBHAN BURKE MAY 19, 2014

From the outside, the Sheen Center, a new arts complex in the West Village, looks inviting, its sleek gold awning standing out along a quiet, leafy block of Bleecker Street. Step inside, though, and the antiseptic interior makes you wonder if you’ve walked into a hospital. Descend the stairwell, and it deposits you in the gloomy black-box theater, where MorDance, a fledgling contemporary ballet company directed by Morgan McEwen, presented a triple bill on Saturday.

It was not an ideal space for the company’s second season, with the setup — there were essentially no wings — necessitating clumsy, distracting entrances and exits. (The theater should also revise its equally distracting late-seating policy.) But the troupe gamely worked within these limitations and, logistical snags aside, offered a pleasant, solidly danced program. If Ms. McEwen, a former dancer with BalletMet Columbus, doesn’t yet have a distinctive voice, she seems on her way to developing one, equipped with essential tools: an eye for shaping the arc of a dance as carefully as the transitions and details within it.

“Ingress,” a premiere for three women and three men to Ludovico Einaudi’s melancholic music, introduced a few of her proclivities: for chiseled, mechanistic arms; for quick, close-to-the-floor footwork; and for partnering that, most of the time, is refreshingly angst free. Her dances appear to be more about their own architecture — both reflecting and pushing back against the architecture of the music — than about any preconceived drama.

Ms. McEwen herself danced in “Static Space,” a duet with Jace Coronado. The

most arresting moment was the least complicated: a snappy pirouette for her, unobtrusively assisted by him, that slowly decelerated to the sound of a sparse rattling in Max Richter’s score.

For “Jeu De Temps,” Ms. McEwen assembled an eclectic percussive soundtrack (including Steve Reich and mbira drums), rhythmic fodder for playful motifs like tossed shoulders and rippling torsos. Experiments with long white skirts — which the women pulled over their faces, exposing only their dancing legs — were cute at best. Here and in “Ingress,” the compact, bright-eyed Amy Ruggiero seemed the most connected, to both the movement and the audience.

Leadership positions in ballet tend to be dominated by men; it’s heartening to

see Ms. McEwen building her own enterprise as both a choreographer and artistic

director. Her work so far is clean, crisp, contained: completely inoffensive. She

might consider, as she moves forward, the possibilities that lie beyond looking

pretty.

A version of this review appears in print on May 20, 2014, on page C5 of the New York edition with the headline: A Troupe and Its Leader, Bodies Willing, Try to Gain a Foothold.

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