Dance Review

Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ becomes life-cycle dance

By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / September 25, 2009

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SOMERVILLE - For a choreographer with limited forces, it can be incredibly daunting to tackle a familiar orchestral masterpiece. Add a full chorus, soloists, and a powerful, resonant text, as in Mozart’s beloved “Requiem,’’ and the challenge is only compounded. How do you match that with eight dancers?

But in Nicole Pierce’s version of Mozart’s final work, being given its world premiere this weekend at The Armory in Somerville, the choreographer chooses not to interpret the piece as a tribute to the dead, but to use the music as a launch pad to reflect the cycle of life.

It’s subtle, to be sure. There’s no narrative, and the movement is fairly abstract. Transformation is mostly reflected in costume changes that gradually shift from white to loden to black and video of the Vermont woods as they go through the seasons, shown on screens that surround the performance floor on three sides.

And the scratchy recording Pierce uses takes some of the brilliant edge off Mozart’s score, letting us focus on the dance, instead of getting lost in the music.

Pierce’s largest and most ambitious piece yet, “Requiem’’ has been nearly two years in the making and more than a decade in germination. The eight women of her company, EgoArt, Inc. dance with authority, flair, and absolute commitment (despite some opening night ensemble disparities and a minor collision.)

They capture the work’s energy and drive with expansive, muscular movement etched with vivid detail in the extremities.

As long limbs propel the dancers into eye-catching patterns through the space, fingers curve and flatten, stretch and claw. Feet flex, point and pronate with precision and clarity. Sometimes the dancers catch the swing or weight of the music. Other times, they go their own way. Pierce doesn’t so much set choreography to the music as send movement sweeping through it.

Much of the time, that deliberate counterpoint is effective. But often the dynamic and mood don’t shift with the music’s dramatic arc, and after a while, it can all start to look the same.

However, there are some wonderful highlights. In “Lacrimosa,’’ Julie Pike Edmond and Lindsey Ridgeway have a duet of sculpturally entwined embraces, marking the first real human connection in the piece. “Sanctus’’ sends the dancers flopping to the floor with rolls, crawls, lunges, stretches, contorted balances. In “Agnus Dei,’’ the dancers join hands for whiplike, spiraling turns through the space.

At the end, the dancers, now clad all in black, leave the stage one by one as Mozart’s chorus sings of mercy and eternal light. Appropriately, the forest scene on the video shifts upward, to a stark view of bare treetops against a vast open sky.

Nicole Pierce & EgoArt, Inc. “Requiem’’ Center for the Arts at the Armory, Somerville

Last night, through Saturday

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