The movement is pure in Donovan's 'Borrowed Bones'
CAMBRIDGE - Dancer/choreographer Kelley Donovan knows firsthand the value of letting go, the theme of her latest work, "Borrowed Bones." Since selling her condo and a good portion of her belongings two years ago to head for the Big Apple, the longtime Boston dance-maker has been dividing her time between here and New York City. Accepting impermanence and letting go have been integral to the process.
In last night's Boston premiere of the work by Donovan and her nine excellent New York dancers (it was premiered in Manhattan in January), the underlying context was subtle. You could see it mostly in the use of torso energy that seems headed in one direction while the limbs reach elsewhere, a kind of holding on and releasing at the same time. Repeatedly, arms unfurl forward from the collarbone as the body leans back. In frequent falls, the arms reach upward even as the knee buckles to the floor.
But mostly, "Borrowed Bones" reads as pure movement, a vivid study of contrasts with mercurial dynamic shifts - fast/slow, angled/curved, hard/soft. Donovan's distinctive movement language is best seen in her own body. In her opening solo and in several spots throughout when she takes center stage, she displays a weighted, full-bodied aesthetic, her head and limbs spiraling out from her torso as she twists and spins. At one moment she uncoils in luxurious stretches, then just as quickly shifts directions and lunges. Weight gives way to air, curves are subverted by sharp angles carved by elbows, knees, and feet, as if a spring suddenly popped loose. It is eye-catching and surprising, yet impeccably controlled and riveting to watch.
Duets beautifully coalesce as dancers' unison phrases periodically burst apart and they reconnect with supported leaps and lifts, pushes and pulls, catches and carries. However, the big group movement, which explodes with a kind of muscular aggression, tends to look frenetically busy and self-absorbed after a while. Isolated gestures adorn every move, and you can hear the expenditure of energy in the dancers' sharp exhalations of breath.
It's remarkable how well the dancers, who collaborated with Donovan on the movement, stay on cue given the score, which is mostly an atmospheric collage of electronic clinks, clanks, and bumps, with occasional voices wafting in. Toward the end, a snippet of musical groove filters through, and it transforms the movement, giving it rhythmic pull and just the slightest hint of playfulness. I wish it had happened sooner in the 40-minute work. But just as we settle into the beat, the lights go out, the dancers fly into the wings and the piece is over.