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    No wings attached

    Nicholas Leichter's "Free the Angels" is light on angels but heavy on leather-skirted guys, slinky silk and racy fun.


    One might well wonder where the angels are in Nicholas Leichter's new "FreetheAngels," a program of dance appearing at The Flea Theater in Tribeca through July 1. Disguised variously in slinky silk, oversized denim, and bitchin' black leather, the sexy holy rollers making up his company strut their stuff, daring the audience to deny their halos. Underneath this suave confidence, however, lies a vulnerability that flickers fleetingly, subtle allusions to a troubled soul, evidence of frail humanity.

    Company: nicholasleichterdance.
    Directed by: Nicholas Leichter.
    Dancers: Clare Byrne, Daniel Clifton, Holly Handman, Justin Jones, Amy Larimer, Nicholas Leichter, Will Rawls.

    Related links: Official site
    The evening begins with "," an animated video montage of images from the company's first five years. Black and white stills melt and move into a cacophony of colorized vibrance set to the mellow vocal musings of Mariah Carey. Growing and shrinking in myriad layered variations, the shifting symmetry becomes mesmerizing. Silhouettes merge with translucent traveling dancescapes creating a visual display that transcends its source. For one who has embraced the company since its inception, this opening was particularly moving.

    But when the memories end, the real live fun begins. "Worth," originally choreographed by Leichter in 1999, starts strikingly with Will Rawls alone onstage scantily clad in black lingerie framed by spinning slices of white light. Engaging and crisp, Will's opening entreaty gives way to a rousing revelry of sexy attitude and a full-blown avalanche of movement as the remainder of the six-member company rush the stage. Clare Byrne, Daniel Clifton, Holly Handman, Justin Jones and Amy Larimer are uniformly outfitted in the aforementioned lace and weave in and out of intricate formations, connecting and parting in an impressive display of technicality and precision. With arms swinging and feet a-stamping, the cast sparkles as they roar through Leichter's energized choreography which incorporates African, hip-hop and modern dance styles. After an in-your-face moment sizing up the audience, the entire ensemble strips down to nothing but their white underlying briefs. Instantly, they go from sleek to vulnerable and although soon re-clothed in full-fledged hipster club attire, we do not forget their naked flesh revealed.

    At last, Leichter himself enters the mix and seamlessly transitions into "Black American Psycho (B.A.P.)," a world premiere and his newest solo work to date. Costumed by Olu-Orandava Mumford, Leichter appears dwarfed by his oversized denim attire but is not lost as his entire being positively exudes intensity. Punching isolations within elaborate sequences of furious gestural waves, Leichter channels Michael Jackson as he struts his musically driven outrage down into the urban black ghetto. Pacing back and forth before the audience, Leichter resembles a caged panther incorporating ferocious strength with incredible physical control and balance. At times, Leichter lets down his facade of fury and appears pensive, but introspection leads to pain and is quickly brushed away. Superficiality reigns in Leichter's work, as the protective shield of anger and attitude is never down long enough to grasp the honest truth of his characters.

    Another premiere is the piece that lends its name to entitle the evening, "FreetheAngels."

    Incorporating the entire company in a cascade of free-flying action set to the inimitable crooning of Stevie Wonder, "FreetheAngels" is once again testament to Leichter's considerable talent for manipulating dense, intricate groupings of fast-paced movement. But the piece, though passionate, does not stop long enough to lend substance to its subject matter. Connections are precarious and nothing lasts as the dancers come and go, lost in an orgy of hormones and daredevil dancing.

    There is, however, one exception to this trend. "Undertow," a thoughtful male quartet set to music from Bjork, is a refreshing burst of unassuming candor. Clad in denim jackets and long black leather skirts, Leichter, Clifton, Jones and Rawls move together in an interdependent flow of male cooperation. As in "Worth," Leichter challenges gender stereotypes by dressing the men in skirts without sacrificing their masculinity. Strong yet sensitive, the group yearns for connection and understanding tumbling in and out of rotating lifts and hand holds. Midway through, they remove their jackets to uncover sheer stocking shirts, a frail revealing fabric that becomes a powerful symbol of male vulnerability.

    Steeped in modern pop culture, Leichter's work constitutes a tremendous step forward in connecting contemporary dance to a style-savvy youth. "FreetheAngels" looks and feels like a nightclub thanks to a dynamic lighting design by Erik Bruce and sound design by Stefan Jacobs. Falling short of profound, at its core, nicholasleichterdance is fantastic dance to fantastic music, a dynamite combination with heavenly aspirations.

    JUNE 14, 2001

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