In H2 Dance Company’s current modern dance program, “All About a Table,” the same sturdy rectangular table appears in all three pieces composed by Hope College dance department faculty members. The company of 11 select pre-professional student dancers move around, atop, beneath the table, at turns, as desperate housewives, birds, and tragicomic men in control of the world’s fate — all at the Knickerbocker Theatre in Holland.
There is strong characterization through movement, which, like the title of the show, is often quite literal, and with the assistance of projected film clips as well as the text of poems also read aloud, the meaning is clear.
The opening piece, “Sur la Table,” created in 2011 by Steven Iannacone in memory of his mother, makes the table a domestic one of the hearth, where the work of mid-century American women plays out. Six female dancers dressed in cotton floral hausfrau shifts rhythmically express the gravity and push-pull monotony and boredom of housewifery as well as its often hidden yearning (especially in the singular solo of the piece) in their partnering, rolling and tossing of bodies onto the table and onto the ground where they land with a thud. Set to familiar Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young songs such as “Our House” and “Helpless,” the piece is effectively musical if not terribly riveting.
“The Nest,” a new work from Crystal L. Frazier, is the most provocative dance of the program. Seven women and one man perch upstage left on the table positioned at a diagonal in the corner as birds. With music by FKA Twigs that shifts from chirping to a female voice, the dancers make sharp movements with their heads and neck while crouched. Colorful lighting design from Erik Alberg, including leaf-like patterns on the floor, as well as a shift to electronic bass-heavy club music by M.I.A., create dramatic shifts as the birds leap off their perch and emerge with athletic balletic leaps and pirouettes, as well as movements strongly influenced by West African dance. Gauzy tunics with strips of fabric hanging from their arms casually emphasizes their avian spirits, and are a wonderful touch from costumier Darlene K. Veenstra.
The final piece is “Les Joueurs,” and though choreographed in 2009 by Matthew Farmer, some carefully chosen obnoxious orange accents seem quite clearly to reflect the current White House administration. Intended to have a comic flair, it’s a riff on Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table,” the world’s most famous anti-war ballet that emerged from Germany in the early 1930s and ultimately descends into destruction and annihilation as the character Death has the final say.
In Farmer’s piece, eleven dancers dressed in jazz shoes, black shorts, and black and white tuxedo jackets, their faces hidden by flesh-colored half masks argue and fight, showing shock with open mouths, and machismo as well as anger with “up yours” arm-crossing and fists smacking hip bones amid leaps and twirls on top of and away from the table. Instead of Death coming in at the end, it’s a dancer in an orange spandex top who arrogantly marches up and down the table. The “men,” as in “The Green Table,” capitulate, and chaos ensues: hundreds of copy paper pages litter the stage, and red, white, and blue confetti and streamers blow out the top of two orange wind sock men with crazy hair that come to life downstage. Its meaning isn’t hard to perceive as a reflection of the times; however, though meant to be comedic, it doesn’t exactly land that way. Our nerves may be too raw.
But the table endures.
Modern dance is so often opaque in its meaning, but perhaps the use of a heavy, solid, material object as the organizing principle — though up for interpretation — helped ground this particular selection of dances from H2 Dance in the real.
All About a Table
H2 Dance Company
86 E. 8th St., Holland