Da'Rius Malone can be tender and tenacious at the same time.
The James Sewell Ballet dancer who was promoted to resident choreographer last September debuted an ambitious new work, "\,ən-di-ˈtek-tə-bəl" (undetectable), over the weekend at the O'Shaughnessy.
The piece was part of JSB's "New Works Project," which also featured choreography by Kerry Parker, Michael Walters and artistic director James Sewell. Dancers took turns speaking into a microphone, which in addition to voice amplification acted as a prop. Sometimes, the text lost sense of linearity, getting garbled in the swell of Joe Strachan's jazz composition.
In a duet between Jarod Boltjes and Connor Simone, the microphone became a symbol of power. One dancer would draw the microphone away from the other's mouth, interfering with his ability to speak.
The dancers began the work in the lowered orchestra pit, frozen in poses as the platform rose. They expressed coming-of-age sexuality and social anxiety, playing a tension between fluid and jagged qualities. The choreography also incorporated gestures of collapse. Dancing in the piece, Malone's movement was tender, with raw, awkward vulnerability.
He also danced as a horned satyr-like character in Sewell's "Northern Rites." Using a silhouette, the piece portrayed writing bodies in a slithery ritual. Its Dionysian theatricality set to the singing of northern European band Heilung was impressive in its sheer bravado.
Sewell's other piece in the program was performed to two different compositions and titles. The original, "Schoenberg Serenade," which debuted in 2006 with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, was set to music by Arnold Schoenberg. Hans Kruger's new composition for the same choreography, "K00K004U," incorporated cuckoo clock sounds that complemented the whimsical piece.
Kerry Parker's "Holy" was accompanied by the haunting choral music of medieval Benedictine nun/composer Hildegard von Bingen, assembled by Andrew Bocher. Dressed in flowing costumes by Stephanie Karr-Smith, the dancers seemed to glide as if swans shooting across the water. The dancers performed en pointe with liberal use of forced arches and unusual angles and lines. Parker employed plenty of breath and lyricism to the gentle piece, as well as darkness. A segment near the end hinted at self-harm as part of a ceremony.
Michael Walters' piece, "Tryptych," spanned the 1990s alternative music (Nirvana and the Cranberries) and a rather loud beeping electronic composition by Ryoji Ikeda. The work employed a wiry, almost mime-like style of dancing. Sewell danced in the piece, which was composed partially over Zoom.
There was a touching moment before pianist Ivan Konev and cellist Laura Sewell, who also is James' sister, performed. Konev, who was born in Ukraine, had shared photos of his family in a bomb shelter. Speaking tearfully, the artistic director dedicated the performance to the people of Ukraine.