Beth Fecteau expects a lot from her dancers. The members of Nacre, a repertory company that mainly performs historic modern dances, must absorb many styles. And they must do it with grace and ease.
That’s tough, especially for a company like Nacre, a semi-professional troupe that does not have the time nor treasure to steep itself daily in dance. That was evident on Saturday at The Egg, where the ensemble marked its second season. Like last year, Nacre danced works by Isadora Duncan, Jose Limon, Doris Humphrey and others, but with less success. Some pieces were knockouts, others pedestrian.
The company also, like last year, continued its format of introducing each piece with emphasis on the historical significance of its choreographer. Many of the speakers, including Fecteau, concentrated on dates, places and motivations. Mary DiSanto-Rose, an assistant professor of dance at Skidmore College, rejected that approach and was the most eloquent as she spoke of Duncan’s revolutionary vision and philosophy. It’s as if she herself were breathing in Duncan’s essence and exchanging that life with the audience.
The special moment lingered with the work itself — Duncan’s “Ode to Apollo.” Staged by Duncan devotee Jeanne Bresciani, the group work to Schubert was gloriously performed. The 10 dancers, dressed in saffron-colored silks, dispatched this homage to the muses with a reverence and softness that was alluring. Waving their arms, they look to be tracing the pathways of a gentle wind. They stepped as if their feet were alighting on clouds. And when they moved in unison, holding their hands up as if to make an offering to the gods, the piece ebbed to a climatic portrait of nature’s orderly and astonishing splendor.
Almost as lovely was the staging of Jose Limon’s Etude, which was created by Limon protégée Carla Maxwell. Yet another group work to Schubert, the etude directed all eyes with its swirling formations. The patterns of lines and circles sparked imaginations as arms shot straight with purpose or bent curved over the head as if in prayer. With full-length skirts sweeping the air, this work was a fine example of how classics never age.
Unfortunately, other works looked forced. This was true for Anna Sokolow’s “Session for Six,” which was supposed to be a carefree depiction of youth but came off as robotic. Other works, like Danny Grossman’s “Ecce Etude,” an excerpt from “Ecce Homo,” and Doris Humphrey’s “Soaring,” were plagued by costumes that were unflattering and therefore distracting.
“Moon Dances,” by Eleanor King to music from Schonberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” was unleashed with great care by Mary Beth Hampshire. The most accomplished dancer in Nacre, Hampshire abandoned herself and surrendered to the dance. That’s a much-needed attribute, as many in the company are obviously considering their steps rather than throwing themselves into them.
Also wonderful was Andrew Meerwarth. It’s so rare to be able to see a terrific male in a local company. He is young and could go far.
Finally, tremendous applause is due to the musicians who performed live for Nacre. Pianist Barbra Musial and vocalist Kara Cornell accompanied the Limon etude with “Gretchen am Spinnrade.” Jim Gaudet and the Railroad Boys, with singer Nancy Walker, played for the only new work on the bill, Rebecca Rabideau’s “Little Sparrow.” The musicianship, on everyone’s part, was outstanding.