'Parties' explores fun, awkwardness
Chunky Move's "I Want to Dance Better at Parties," given its Boston premiere last night at the Institute of Contemporary Art, is a witty, engaging, and occasionally touching exploration of how we feel about dancing - the joy as well as the vulnerability and the awesome potential for humiliation. But it's a surprisingly subtle set-up, deftly combining documentary style video confessions by five men of different ages and cultural backgrounds with live movement by six dancers - including two women.
As the men's stories unfold, their faces and bodies fractured across five rectangular screens, the dancers' phrases touch on social commentary and a kind of loose, impressionism that evokes not just why and how men move on the dance floor, but how they dance - or not - through life. While their reflections hardly represent the vast range of attitudes, those expressed have a surprising universality, though I do wish choreographer/director Gideon Obarzanek had dug just a little deeper and more cohesively.
Sometimes the 70-minute work is literal, some salsa here, Greek dancing there. As one man, a composer, talks about his self-consciousness and inadequacy as a dancer, the tall, rubbery Lee Serle screws his face into hilarious expressions and contorts his limbs awkwardly. A definition of dance as "an explosion that can't be contained inside the body" sets off a wild and wooly chain reaction of athletic push/pull tumbling.
As another man shares his love of clogging, drawn to the noisiness of it as an antidote to his "quiet and shy nature," Kristy Ayre leads the ensemble in a nifty line dance. But when he also confesses to finding - and losing - his soulmate on the dance floor, Ayre and Serle engage in a slow, floor-based duet of writhing, flopping, scooching with butts in the air, necks painfully askew. Sharp exhales power every slice and kick.
Some of the more interesting moments tackle the human condition - love, loss, betrayal, control. As the retired engineer talks about transforming his affinity for digital coding into an exhaustive folk dance notation system, Delia Silvan manipulates the quicksilver Antony Hamilton into a door, a lounge chair, a computer, deconstructing phrases into eye-popping isolations.
The most affecting section turns the dancers into human balloons who with great gasps of air and tip-toed suspensions seem to inflate before our eyes, then deflate into gnarly, sagging twists with each whooshing exhalation of breath. Only after we are totally captivated by the movement, do we discover the meaning, as one of the men, a widower with two young children, talks about the hyperventilating panic attacks he suffered after his wife's death.