Virtuosity is a word best used sparingly. It describes a performance that demands full attention and respect. Not everyone reaches this high point. But in this weekend’s “Momentum: New Dance Works 2013” presented by Walker Art Center at the Southern Theater, premieres by Pramila Vasudevan/Aniccha Arts and Jennifer Arave rise to the occasion.

Vasudevan’s “F6” begins with the audience onstage, and five dancers plus musician Douglas Ewart in the seats. They clamber over armrests, slide across the aisles, lope into the tech booth, bodysurf along the rows, balance in yoga poses, laugh uproariously and hide from view. Ewart subtly spurs everyone on with his bells, flute, didgeridoo and other instruments. It’s as if the ever-alert Vasudevan and her bold cast summoned the old theater’s restless spirits and plotted them on the seating grid. Who’s watching who in this alternate universe?

“F6” is constructed carefully with a keen eye toward ritual and order, the kind that gathers slowly and steadily — almost imperceptibly. Here it builds toward a stunning solo performed by Kenna Cottman. With each turn of her body she identifies and embodies a different rhythmic pattern for her limbs, torso and head. She pulls all of the energy in the space towards her, only to return it with renewed power. The air feels lighter as Vasudevan’s transcendent work comes to a close.

And then comes the electric jolt that is Arave’s “Canon.” Performed by magnetic flame-haired dancer Mary Ann Bradley (Zenon Dance Company) and speedster drummer Charles Gehr (Pink Mink and other raucous local bands), the piece takes apart the contorted movement and rocket-propelled beats of punk rock, reveling in its timeless ability to shock and awe the senses.

Bradley channels some of punk’s unstoppable icons: The Plasmatics’ Wendy O. Williams (with chainsaw), Iggy Pop, Jello Biafra of Dead Kennedys, and many more. She pogos, glares, kicks, shimmies, stalks, howls and throws herself to the ground. Always a standout performer, Bradley ascends to another level under Arave’s tightly wound direction. She funnels every pose, smirk and beer-spit into the well-choreographed deconstruction (and ultimately destruction).

Arave, Bradley and Gehr are accomplices in a very different kind of virtuosity, one that roils with the assaultive beauty and glorious chaos that is punk’s legacy.


Caroline Palmer writes about dance.