From left are Berit Ahlgren, Ashwini Ramaswamy and Alanna Morris-Van Tassel in "Let the Crows Come" at University at Albany. (Photo by Jake Armour)
Differences don’t have to divide. Rather classical Indian dancer Ashwini Ramaswamy showed that differences united can create something moving and beautiful.
And on Sunday night at the University at Albany Performing Arts Center, that something was Ramaswamy’s shimmering triptych “Let the Crows Come” — a homage to the transformative power of crows, which took flight with a trio of disparate, but divine dancers.
Bharatanatyam devotee and choreographer Ramaswamy gathered Gaga-trained modern dancer Berit Ahlgren and Afro-modern mover Alanna Morris-Van Tassel for this hour-long work that explored the mysterious nature of the brilliant black bird. And while I was often baffled by the story they told, their movement kept me intrigued, wondering how this beckoning of birds will take flight.
The piece, with music composed by Jace Clayton, Prema Ramamurthy and Brent Arnold, was, as the program notes, based on the Hindu epic poem Ramayama, about a prince who must rescue his wife from a demon.
While the Odyssey-like trials were not obvious, the dance did take its audience on a journey. Divided up solos, beginning with Ramaswamy, the strength and abilities of each dancer commanded the stage that was decorated with one item — a large bowl piled high with rice.
Like many polished Indian dancers, Ramaswamy is a study in gesture. She began with her undulating fingers, dipped in red, and her circling wrists to create the vision of a bird flying off. And while at first pleasantly at ease, her prominent and striking eyes, along with the stomp of her heels started to relate another tale — one of fear and distress. She dropped down low in a stance of attack and pounce, a fighter for an unseen war.
As she departed, Ahlgren took her turn. Bent backward, keeping watch on the sky, Ahlgren’s persona was large and feisty. As her music turned more percussive and confrontational, she matched it, becoming, as her arms shaped like wings told, a large bird herself. She shot arrows and flew.
Morris-Van Tassel took it home with her generous solo. Bent low, she looked to be gathering a harvest, a bountiful meal, in a focused but contented manner. In her, there was a sense of relief and happiness as she appeared to honor the beloved. In her, all things lovely came to the conclusion sealed by a kiss she blew.
In the end, the trio met up at the bowl, scooped it up a handful of the rice and let it slide through their fingers in a cascade of release and abundance.
Where did the crows, symbols of transformation, lead? It looked to be nirvana.
Mark Morris Dance Group performed its uplifting "Gloria" on Friday night at The Egg in Albany.
In times of trouble, there is nothing more delightful than a richly musical cavort from the Mark Morris Dance Group.
It was a great pleasure to see this fine ensemble at The Egg on Friday night, performing as smartly as ever in a show that was rescheduled and rescheduled again and again because of the pandemic.
The fairly large crowd saw two jewels — “Words” from 2014 to music by Felix Mendelssohn played live, and the glorious “Gloria” from 1981 to Vivaldi in D, a work that offers hope of redemption for all of humanity's sins. Sandwiched between the two was “Jenn and Spencer,” a duet to music by Henry Cowell, also played live by a crackerjack duo, Georgy Valtchev on violin and Ryan MacEvoy McCullough on piano.
As with all Morris works, musicality soared with every note and nuance getting a nod of acknowledgement. But it is choreographic structures that Morris creates that won the evening. The 16 articulate dancers enthralled with their spot-on interpretations of Morris’ architectures that the eyes love to meander through.
“Words,” which opened the program, was a suite of dances that started out small with duets that were shielded and then revealed by a cloth held up by passing dancers. As the number of dancers grew in each little piece, the work told a story of independence, unity, joy and sorrow.
Morris drew from his background in folk dancing, thus reeling minds to the situation in Ukraine. And the piece of cloth emphasized that, we the viewer, can only see and thus understand a partial story. We are beings in the dark.
Our difficult relationships are depicted in the duet “Jenn and Spencer,” in which a couple tangles and is unable to reach a détente. The work is a back and forth between the two that is encapsulated in their stilted walk. Danced on Friday by Karlie Budge and Brandon Randolph, it’s a tense work that ends with the woman running off, the strain between the two is never resolved. Though true-to-life, “Jenn and Spencer” can be difficult to watch.
All is forgiven in the magnificent “Gloria.” It begins with a couple: one with a hobbled walk and another inching forward on his belly. As a recording of Vivaldi’s sacred chorale composition filled the theater, the ensemble of 10 dancers rose from crippled to healed, from sinners to saints in an uplifting and gorgeous display that Morris frames superbly.