In an interview with Dance writer Iris Fanger, Sean Curran said, "I feel that where one dance ends, another dance begins." The evening of Curran's work presented by N.C. State's CenterStage last Friday proved that while a choreographer's body of work can speak eloquently as a whole, the connections between the parts can be alternately uneasy and transcendent.
Four dances spanning four years of work covered technical ground as gloriously various as Iyengar yoga, Irish step dance, Bob Fosse jazz, Fred Astaire tap-styling and the Indian classical dance-form Bharatta Nattyam. The choreographer even sang. All of this business tended toward a sweet unity, however, that the performers seemed to feel as palpably as the audience. What could be so convincing about a series of dances so eclectic it seemed designed to cater to every existing taste in some small way? Most likely that form and function, movement and meaning, finally reunited after a rocky, globetrotting romance. This resolution did not come at the end, but rather sporadically and in visionary glimpses snatched from the whirlwind of gesture, sequence, song and proclamation.
The figure of Sean Curran appeared for the first time in the second piece entitled "Approaching a City," a one-man show employing child mannequins, original show tunes composed by J. Pointer, Dick Gallagher and Mark Waldrop, two stunning poems by Galway Kinnell and Andy Young, and a wily spotlight that dressed Curran in pointed moonlight.
To behold Sean Curran is to love him: He has the taut, round belly of Santa Claus and the head of an impish savant. Curran does indeed know things. He told and danced of the "strange gifts" and unlikely juxtapositions that are bestowed upon the pilgrim-settler arrived in New York City. What's most persuasive and sweetest about this dance is the effort involved in performing effort itself: the work of searching, of solitude, of witnessing the continuous rise and fall of civilization as evidenced in random acts of kindness, ineptitude and despair.
The Nothing That Is Not There and the Nothing That Is was a quartet of Marisa Demos, Tony Guglietti, Peter Kalivas and Heather Waldon-Arnold performing eloquently together to the music of Leos Janacek. Their bodies configured the shapes of affiliation, distance, intimacy. The dance was a negotiation of space and neatly dealt with the cost incurred by proximity. Coming as this piece did after Curran's solo, it felt particularly complete, stylistically transparent and, in fact, perfect. It's moving to know that the performer of the one crafted the other. Why, then, did this one look so easy? The couples seemed not to know or care why they had found themselves together moving in exactly this way at this time: It was uniformly irrelevant to everyone, including the audience.
In The Nothing's unique choreography, contact and movement toward and away from the center of the body were central. There was a clear sequence of shapes repeated and changed that felt like a sentence about looking through the window of your arm, finding a lucky penny, stepping over a mile-wide divide. Every possible configuration of this statement was found, but no conclusion drawn, no catharsis, no treasure at the end of the road. The lights went down on one dancer still looking.
Symbolic Logic and Folk Dance for the Future sandwiched these inner two pieces in provocative ways. The first dance was an exaltation of form for form's sake, and the last one had a devil of a good time making fun of tradition. Politically, Curran was wise to consider that in the case of Symbolic Logic, he was dealing in someone else's historical backyard, and with Folk Dance he was romping in his own, that of Irish step-dancing. Given that, he might have portrayed a clearer point of view on his relationship to yoga and Bharatta Nattyam as movement histories. But more importantly, these dances revealed an artist's concern for the tools he uses, where they come from and how they are transformed when called upon to communicate new truths. By the end of the evening, it was clear that what was possible to say had been said, and what was said had been a complete but tiny fraction of all that was meant.