NEW HAVEN, CT-“Some of a Thousand Words” was an interesting dance experience put on with the collective talents of dancers Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks and string musicians Brooklyn Rider as part of the International Festival of Arts & Ideas.
Whelan, who spent 30 years with the New York City Ballet, 23 of which was as Principal Dancer, retired from that role in 2014, but transitioned into modern dance. Brooks, the choreographer of the piece, has his own company the Brian Brooks Moving Company and is Choreographer in Residence at the Harris Theater for Music & Dance.
Brooklyn Rider consists of Johnny Gandelsman and Colin Jacobsen on Violins, Nicholas Cords on Viola, and Eric Jacobsen on the Cello. They’re act has been described in some circles as “the future of chamber music.”
The dance consisted of five parts or “words” set to different types of music. The First Word was followed by “ArpRec1” by Tyondai Braxton. The Second Word was silent. The Third Word was an original composition by Colin Jacobsen himself called “BTT” Fourth Word was followed by “The Wind in High Places” by John Luther Adams. The Final Word features the familiar String quartet #3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass. Evan Ziporyn is also credited but I am not sure where the music appeared.
The dance begins with no dancing at all as Brooklyn Rider has the stage to themselves for the flitting, rapid, erratic, and sometimes frenzied overture. Whelan arrives and performs a slow dance accompanied by fast strings. Her movements are not aligned with the music behind her, which is likely the point as asymmetry is common in this performance.
Brooks enters during the Second Word and he and Whelan walk around the stage before swaying and moving together, the dance is fluid in the silence.
In the Third Word, Jacobsen’s score reminds of the overture, though for the first time, a different sort of melody appears amidst the chaos so far. The pair renters with chairs and enter into a long sequence of fighting essentially for chairs, sometimes, they seek the other’s, sometimes they sit together struggling and fighting. Tense strings accompany this back and forth. What is largely a pattern of repetition later becomes broken when one pulls a chair away only to have the other carry their chair over and resume the conflict. Often Brooks ends up lying on the floor, as Whelan lies on the chair. If this dance is not meant to signify the struggle in a bad relationship it surely does a good job of doing so anyway.
In the Fourth Word, Brooks gets a solo and my words do not do it justice. He slowly moves more and more, mostly with his back to the audience, gradually moving his arms, and turning more, eventually he turns towards the audience only to turn back as his body seems to escape whatever held it back. Arm movement is a big deal in this dance as he flails. It is a slow buildup, as his skill is showcased, with a payoff. Whelan eventually enters and the two dance in similar time but in asymmetric ways.
All of this leads to Final Word or “First Fall” which was originally commissioned by Damian Woetzel in 2012. The dances up until this point have seemed to involve two people perhaps in conflict, not really working towards a common purpose. This may be a theme that continues in the Final Word, but if it does, it does so in the first dance where the pair seem to be working together within the narrative, though it also features the symbolism of Whelan gracefully collapsing onto Brooks repeatedly all over the stage. However also the two engage in a duet with numerous powerful and graceful lifts and beautiful elements. It reminds of a pas de deux in ballet without the exact ballet elements themselves. It was quite the finale. Even the accompanying piece was more traditional then the sometimes grating songs mixed in with earlier “Words”
As always with dance pieces, this article can barely do any real justice to the true artistry. This dance to some degree did go over my head, though what did not was the skills and ability of those involved. Whelan and Brooks did what they did expertly as to be expected. Brooklyn Rider performed well also as expected, moving from frenzied chaos to the more melodic finale successfully. I’m sure dance and music scholars will speak about this performance with much greater effect nonetheless it was an interesting.