Wallpaper as a home design element has generally fallen out of favor — but wait until you see how choreographer Chris Schlichting, in collaboration with visual artist Terrence Payne, uses it to transform the normally utilitarian stage of the Red Eye Theater. On Thursday night, Schlichting premiered the coyly named “Matching Drapes” (created with his stellar ensemble) and it is one sharp, if a wee bit short, dance work.
Black and white, with a hint of blue, makes up the color scheme. Mary Ann Bradley, Krista Langberg, Laura Selle Virtucio, Dustin Maxwell and Max Wirsing sport spare yet chic costumes as they perform against elegant repeating prints of flowers on the floor and back wall. But while this piece is stylish, it also has substance. The world Schlichting reveals is full of clever kinetic asides, streamlined beauty, hints of mischief and thoughtful juxtapositions.
Repetition plays a prominent role but the dancing is never monotonous. Nuances emerge in an organic fashion — pointing fingers, a pat to the face, a secretive sidelong glance, undulating arms and torsos, loping runs — building layer upon layer of meaning. Bradley and Langberg are the essence of cool as they cycle through a sinewy duet while Virtucio and Wirsing add tension to the interactions by slashing through space. Justin Jones and Schlichting toy with nostalgia in the sound score by evoking a lush 1970s mood, although the piece still feels very much of the present.
A duet for Maxwell and Wirsing has a dreamy, whisper-soft quality defined by sculpturally arcing bodies and an effortless yet continuous flow that suggests tenderness even though the performers never touch and rarely make eye contact. The easy relationship between these particular dancers underscores the stirring spatial connections that run throughout the evening.
The duet is the final scene and because it creates such a strong impression, there’s a desire to see more. Schlichting is smart to avoid cluttering up “Matching Drapes” with too many gimmicks but at the same time his clarity of purpose is so refreshing that it seems a shame the piece is over in 40 minutes. Then again, there’s a certain skill to experimenting within the boundaries of restraint — an ironic and maybe rebellious act, given the boldness of this work’s visual statements.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.