In preparation for its 20th anniversary season, Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company turned back to its artistic director’s favorite work “From the mind/of a single long vine/one hundred opening lives.”
Yet after its showing on Saturday night at The Egg, one wonders if this work — among Ellen Sinopoli’s many — will remain a favorite as its once rich flavor was not as seasoned. The difference was in the dancers: There were fewer and Sinopoli’s current crop wrought a sobering sensibility to this evening-length creation.
It can be tricky to restage a beloved work. It can also be enlightening. The work might reveal itself more fully and the choreographer has a second chance, updating or refining its detail.
But in dance, the art is in its players. If you loved the original cast, as I did, it can be difficult to watch anyone else in these roles. And though the piece was well-danced, “From the mind/of a single long vine/one hundred opening lives” was not fully owned as it once was. The lighter moments — like the calabash women — were more belabored than blithe. The only truly gleeful section is the solo, “A Child,” danced by the spirited Laura Teeter. So as the dance once felt life-affirming, it now feels darker, more violent and desperate, despite the work ending happily.
There was still much to admire in the piece, based on a haiku poem. The work drips in atmosphere that one can taste. The set sculptures by Jim Lewis — cedar benches, boxes, and other oddly shaped items — enhance and frame a primitive world. The music, by including Rokia Traore, Aisha Kahil and Ali Jihad Racy, among others, set the mood of a distant world beautifully. So too do the earth-toned costumes, accented in red, by Kim Vanyo and the lighting by David Yergan. Everything was well-placed and thought out, so the audience clearly sensed they were entering an ancient dimension where ritual was steeped in everyday living.
The work hung together with a loose narrative — people gathering, marrying, procreating, warring and finding peace. Claire Jacob-Zysman powerfully opened the program as the sojourner, seeking a home while she carried a handled box like a suitcase. It continues with “Caravan” in which the six dancers gathered, linking hands as if they were the vine that bloomed with life.
“The Betrothed,” the duet with Melissa George and Andre Robles, was problematic as always. It seems Sinopoli can’t get a man and a woman together in a natural fashion. This time, it seemed less forced and the duet was more focused, but it still failed to hit the mark. They were unconvincing as anxious lovers.
Robles, one of Sinopoli’s newer dancers, does have potential. His long limbs eat space, but he was not subtle enough for this duet.
George was fantastic, however. She has grown into a lovely dancer who pours out lushness with every move.
Sinopoli made one change that was unsettling. She added an intermission, which broke the dance’s spell. Perhaps her now smaller troupe needed a rest.
In the end, it interrupted the once nimble “From the mind.”