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    Aaron Walter and Brian Brooks, left and right, in <i>Motor</i> in Brian Brooks
    Photo by Christopher Duggan
    Aaron Walter and Brian Brooks, left and right, in Motor

    Burning Thighs and Puffs of Smoke

    Brian Brooks Moving Company takes the Joyce stage


    Brian Brooks surfs between epic and silly, on mesmerizing waves. The three pieces he showed for the Gotham Dance Festival at the Joyce are like three points of a plane, distinct but clearly related.

    Choreography by: Brian Brooks.
    Produced by: Ken Maldonado.
    Dancers: Hollis Bartlett, Brian Brooks, Meghan Frederick, Jeff Kent Jacobs, Jo-anne Lee, Danielle McIntosh, Aaron Walter.
    Music by: Jonathan Pratt, Adam Crystal.
    Costumes by: Liz Prince.
    Lighting design by: Philip Teviņo.
    Festival production manager: Burke Wilmore.
    Joyce Theater
    June 2-5, 2011

    Motor plays with conical space, and with repetitive motion that tests the endurance of dancers (burning thighs!) and audience. Motor takes us on quite a journey, beginning quiet and buttoned-up and ending loose and sweaty. Slow motion and stop motion often create a cinematic feel, as if we're watching a movie of a dance. The radiating lines that converge on a backstage opening give a sci-fi, virtual-space feel. And lighting design by Philip Treviņo and music by Jonathan Pratt continually shift the shape and feel of space and place.

    Early sections have plenty of contact crashing and partnering that give way to semi-humorous sections like a supported Jo-anne Lee running, in slow motion, up and over people as if she were weightless, or a hands-swirling-around-faces group section that looks vaguely like vogueing. One stated goal of Motor is to explore perpetual motion, and things never do stop moving, even if they slow to half-speed.

    Jo-anne Lee, Meghan Frederick, Aaron Walter, Jeff Kent Jacobs, L-R, in <i>Descent</i> in Brian Brooks
    Photo by Christopher Duggan
    Jo-anne Lee, Meghan Frederick, Aaron Walter, Jeff Kent Jacobs, L-R, in Descent

    Slow doesn't mean easy most of the time, though. The central segment of the piece may as well be called the 'Burning Thighs, Man' Festival. Aaron Walter and Brian Brooks spend what feel like 10 minutes hopping on one leg, traveling around the stage in unison, switching legs only rarely when changing direction from front to back. Serious self-control and stamina make this beautiful and mesmerizing rather than painful and choppy, and big jumps occasionally punctuate the hopping, too, as a visual break or a muscle test.

    The slow evolutions of Motor sometimes challenge the audience, but the gradual loosening and disappearing of dancer clothes keeps us teased. It also just feels natural as we watch seven people move almost continually. Both clothing loss and lighting give entrances variety and flavor, as the behind-the-lines area changes from the blackness of outer space to a twilit middle ground in which we can see people as they approach and leave the action zone of the cone. By the end, with the help of music, too, things feel loose, natural and easy, like an afterglow.

    I'm Going to Explode is a compact little freakout solo by a man in a suit. The beginning is especially witty, as he stands up from his chair/sedentary job/desk/life and walks away and then turns Pilates arm-pumps into a rhythmic match for LCD Soundsystem music and a nice representation of rigid frustration. Brooks is fun to watch as he lets his body go wild, before returning, better, to his life.

    Descent is a pretty piece of stagecraft that mixes ethereal lightness and plodding heaviness. Striped sidelighting cuts people at mid-chest and illuminates pieces of gauzy fabric that dancers fan aloft. The effect is like watching smoke, or fire; we watch the dance of fabric and light and almost forget the humans. When three dancers trudge out carrying another three like frozen mannequins on their backs, the contrast is striking — gravity very much applies to us, and we can fight it or have fun with it. Brooks chooses to have fun with it, reveling in the muscularity it takes to fight it and letting music drive the pulses and contractions that move us.

    JUNE 14, 2011

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