In nuanced narratives, we wait, listen, and learn

Toni Melass (above) and Milvia Pacheco Salvatierra and Edward Rice (below) in Alexandra Beller’s “other stories.’’ Toni Melass (above) and Milvia Pacheco Salvatierra and Edward Rice (below) in Alexandra Beller’s “other stories.’’ (Photos By Steven Schreiber)
By Jeffrey Gantz
Globe Correspondent / July 25, 2011

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Whether it’s “Swan Lake’’ or a piece of Lucinda Childs minimalism, dance has always told stories. George Balanchine may have eschewed plot in his neo-classical ballets, but you could still find a narrative. Of course, not everyone found the same narrative. “What happens if we understand, or even adopt, each other’s narratives?’’ New York–based choreographer Alexandra Beller has asked. Her “other stories’’ - which had its world premiere at the Institute of Contemporary Art Saturday night, as part of the ICA/Summer Stages Dance at Concord Academy Co Lab: Process + Performance series - is her sophisticated attempt at an answer.

Beller’s live collaborator here was Band of Susans founder Robert Poss, whose noise-guitar-and-synth score, with its occasional slow rin gongs, induced a mood of quiet waiting and listening. (Actually, his band’s wall of guitars used to have the same effect.) And storytelling in the 21st century being a multimedia affair, there were larger-than-life video projections on the ICA’s shutters and spoken-word snippets (“He would have preferred to have no story’’) from the six dancers.

There was even a guest artist to kick it off, Karl Rogers, who had been seen at the ICA in April as a member of David Dorfman Dance. The other performers - Andrew Avery, Lea Fulton, Megan Madorin, Toni Melaas, Edward Rice, and Milvia Pacheco Salvatierra - formed a circle around him, riffing on his movement story while the shutters rose and we briefly saw the harbor behind them.

Three couples eventually formed. Madorin and Salvatierra came out together, Salvatierra balancing a white umbrella on her head, and seemed to argue before Salvatierra opened the umbrella and they did a skipping dance. Avery went down on one knee before Melaas, and he also spent a lot of time sitting and lying on the floor; at one point she lay on top of him, but later they did an unmating dance. Fulton watched Rice gesticulate expansively and then get down on his hands and knees, whereupon she knelt on his back.

A miniature white apartment building was wheeled onstage, what looked like the work of Italian architect Aldo Rossi, and from time to time one could see within Rogers jigging about as if he were a guest on “Laugh-In.’’ “This is how tall I was,’’ Fulton suddenly told us. “This is the only place that makes me laugh. This is chipped blue nail polish.’’ Everybody started talking; Salvatierra might have been translating into Spanish. One story came into focus: a couple, pregnancy, physical abuse. A video projection seemed to show Fulton and Rice in the room of an apartment, another Melaas and Avery meeting for drinks, a third Madorin and Salvatierra walking over stones, through grass.

Too many stories? Perhaps. But “other stories’’ isn’t really about narrative - it’s about learning to observe and listen, something Beller’s six dancers were doing whenever they weren’t “talking.’’ Toward the end, the couples re-formed, Avery with Salvatierra, Fulton with Melaas, Rice with Madorin, and signature moves were repeated: Madorin’s temper tantrum, Rice and then Salvatierra lying atop Avery. It was as if we’d been taken into an alternate universe where the couples had hooked up differently.

The piece ended as it had begun, the shutters rising on the now dark harbor, Rogers back in the middle of the circle. When he walked off, the six dancers seemed stranded, silhouettes looking out toward the harbor, as if a new narrative were gestating there. At least, that’s my story.

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at

ALEXANDRA BELLER/DANCES At: Institute of Contemporary Art, Saturday

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