The lights came up on choreographer Claire Jacob-Zysman’s First Friday dance performance with “birth to a dancing star.” That’s apropos, as Jacob-Zysman is locally known as a dancing star with the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company.
But this sweet and solemn dancer holds aspirations beyond the spotlight. She is setting out with her own ensemble, Claire Jacob-Zysman and Dancers.
The troupe, performing in the friendly Westminster Presbyterian Church, however, is not wholly her own. The group consists completely of Sinopoli dancers. At first glance, one would be certain this was a Sinopoli production, but borrowing these dancers made perfect sense for Jacob-Zysman — they share an artistic sensibility and companionship that would, hopefully, enhance her budding vision.
And judging by the works shown — four in all, with one fanciful improvisation — much of Jacob-Zysman’s aesthetic has yet to fully form. The ideas were there, but she skittered around their rims.
Consider the first work, “birth to a dancing star.” Based on a Nietzsche quote, “One must have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star … You still have chaos in yourself,” the dance that Jacob-Zysman created was a well-defined world in which a runner bound two others within their tumult. Jacob-Zysman, Sara Senecal and Laura Teeter took turns as runners and souls reaching out, shaking and trying to cast off something within. The problem was that something was too ill-defined for the audience to be swept up into the nebulous trial.
“Birth to a dancing star” should be part of a larger work that probes deeper.
The same could be said for “Vessels,” performed by Melissa George, Andre Robles, Senecal and Teeter. Again, a quote was the catalyst, and again, it felt obscure, and the chance for an audience-performer connection was missed.
Happily, the second half of the show demonstrated Jacob-Zysman does choreograph works that touch hearts and minds. This was best shown in “When she sings, I can feel her breath.” For four women, this was a suite of clearly drawn characters who transported audiences into the emotional landscape. Marie Klaiber was the elegant socialite/vixen; Jacob-Zysman was the spiritual sage who envisions death; and the always-gratifying Teeter was the playful youth.
Senecal, who often appears efficient and dispassionate, surprised with her honest portrayal of a tormented creature. Her performance, as she staggered and twisted, was memorable and affecting.
Finally, “Refract,” with George and Robles, could have been equally enjoyable. The costumes (especially Robles wearing of a woman’s top) were distracting and unattractive and the dancers looked ill-prepared, especially in the lifts.