Kinetic ‘Paper’ cuts through gravity

Kelley Donovan & Dancers performing “Made of Paper’’ in New York. Kelley Donovan & Dancers performing “Made of Paper’’ in New York. (Di Zhang)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / February 10, 2010

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CAMBRIDGE - Choreographer Kelley Donovan knows about impermanence and transformation, the themes of her latest work, “Made of Paper.’’ After years as one of the most vibrant choreographers on the Boston scene, she moved to New York, regrouping with a new set of dancers. Yet she still maintains close ties here, coming back periodically to teach and present new work.

Sunday night’s “Made of Paper,’’ performed with five New York-based dancers at the Dance Complex, continues Donovan’s exploration of change and its impact. The 15-minute piece aesthetically resembles her previous works “Borrowed Bones’’ and “Triadic Memories,’’ both of which were represented with brief excerpts. Donovan’s abstract movement unfurls in great kinetic waves of motion punctuated by moments of stillness, but nothing ever quite settles. Sharp angles and slicing limbs segue into liquid curves and coils with startlingly ephemeral shifts of weight and energy.

Even a simple walk forward and back seems on the verge of becoming something else - a backward lunge, a reach and a turn. Repeated gestures, like a hand drifting down from the face, fingers fluttering, change context with each iteration. The play of gravity is fleeting, mercurial, often with energy sent in multiple directions at once - a leap with the body moving forward while a leg kicks backward, a head dips, an arm arcs sideways.

What seems new in “Made of Paper’’ is an increased interest in unison movements among the five dancers. (Donovan makes it a sextet, but mostly dances in brief interspersed solos.) In addition to duos and trios that form and dissolve, Donovan creates ensemble unisons and big group patterns with overlapping layers. It gives the movement collective power and heft amidst individual phrases that connect and disconnect almost before the eye can register them. I hope she continues in this direction.

Though Donovan’s new dancers are excellent, there was some lack of precision in some of the unison work, perhaps partly due to the last-minute absence of an ailing dancer. But in truth, no one captures Donovan’s aesthetic the way she does, showcased most effectively in the solo from “Triadic Memories.’’ A lush, full-bodied mover with a palpable sense of elasticity, she dances with a sensuous fluidity and impeccable clarity of focus.

The concert also included company member Cori Marquis’s solo “Lion’s Share.’’ Marquis really knows how to use space, beginning her work pressed flat against the back curtain before working the floor with stretches, falls, and contorted balances. When she arose, great arcing swoops and spins that played with weight suspended and luxuriously released sent her bounding about the space.

KELLEY DONOVAN & DANCERS At: Dance Complex, Sunday night