Beth Soll turns the spotlight on herself in a return visit

Beth Soll, whose company is now based in New York City, came back to her longtime haunt last weekend. Beth Soll, whose company is now based in New York City, came back to her longtime haunt last weekend. (Erin Baiano/File)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / December 14, 2010

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CAMBRIDGE — When dancer/choreographer Beth Soll left Boston in 1997, it was a real loss to the area’s dance scene. For 26 years, she enlivened Boston culture with engaging, thought-provoking dance works that cut a distinctive path. But every now and then, Soll and her New York-based company return to give us a little taste of what she’s been up to. Saturday night’s concert at the Dance Complex featured a world premiere and two Boston premieres.

The concert opened with two solos by Soll herself, reinforcing her reputation as an extraordinarily compelling, articulate performer. “Disclosure’’ (2010) was a powerful portrayal of an aging diva. With her turbaned head and gathered satiny skirt, Soll was an elegant Norma Desmond type, reliving moments from a storied life in and out of the spotlight. As she walked, ran, lunged and skittered about the stage, gestures evoked a panoply of emotions. Hands framed her face, clutching, covering. One arm cocked behind the head in a glamour shot. Arms raised upward in a great curve, as if basking in applause, then dropped dramatically, casting it all aside. Her period gazes to the audience were unnervingly direct. Yet at one point, she fell, scrabbling backward and shielding her eyes from a bright sidelight, as if fleeing fame’s glare. Repeatedly she engaged, walking toward us resolutely before turning her back and taking a few steps away, as if she couldn’t quite make the break with her adoring fans.

“Tribute,’’ given its world premiere, seemed almost a kind of prequel, though more internal and set to a flurry of spoken phrases, fractured and flowing forth in a variety of languages. She rushed onstage, adjusting the red belt of her dark gray coveralls, huffing “I’m so tired, uno momento.’’ She seemed to be talking more to herself than to us, urging, reassuring, censoring herself through bursts of activity with flourishes of dramatic gestures. It was like watching the process of creation. “Yes, no, basta’’ she conversed with herself. “OK. Here goes’’ launched a little hoochie-coochie dance, hips waggling side to side. “Just watch this’’ ushered in Slavic folk dance. It was riveting, humorous, and touching as she vaulted from moment to moment in a kind of creative frenzy.

“Restless Geometry’’ (2010) was much less coherent. A work for seven dancers set to music from the 17th and 18th centuries juxtaposed with the sounds of frogs, crickets, birds, and wolves, it seemed to suggest how quickly civility can dissolve into savagery. Balletic tendus and courtly bows cast in symmetrical patterns were subverted by chaotic runs and falls. “Life is a game. Let’s play,’’ one of the dancers suggested, setting up freeze tag, catch, blind man’s bluff. Odd man out was accompanied by gossipy whispers, the fun taking on an edge of malice. The music invited dance, but most rhythmic phrases got quickly skewed by melodrama. At one point, the dancers dropped to their knees, hands behind their backs. They mimed taking turns beheading one another, then fell into nurturing embraces. In the end, one lone dancer costumed in green was encircled by the others. To the sound of frogs croaking, he curled on the floor, then slowly crawled forward to arise upright, as if to remind us we’ve all emerged from the swamp.

Karen Campbell can be reached at

BETH SOLL & COMPANY At: Dance Complex, Saturday night