In his program note, director/conceiver Marc Gwinn refers to the production with the acronym ABLOB. For a dance/theatre piece, this didn't bode well. Fortunately, ABLOB, based on written text by Vincent van Gogh (edited by Pierre-Marc Diennet and Gwinn), proved to be non-bloblike and at times refreshingly theatrical. It was not problem-free, however.
Blessed with a bright, beautiful cast of barefoot young people, Gwinn and co-director David J. Szlasa attempted to find the visual and aural soul of the master painter. The piece is divided into seven short parts with nearly each one preceded by a voiced letter to the painter's brother, Theo. Very little spoken text is used in the seven parts. It is here that the company told its story visually and, most successfully, aurally.
Accompanied throughout by the talented and sensitive musician-of-a-million-instruments, Ameenah Kaplan, the performance took place on a nearly bare stage covered with brightly colored canvases (scenic design by Theresa Gonzalez) with patterns suggesting - surprise! - the paintings of van Gogh.
It was the voices, though - the real, human voices of this cast of eight - that, when joined together in a chorus, brought the performance to life. Think of Thornton Wilder's Pullman Car Hiawatha. The sound of humanity touches something deep inside, something common to everyone. A voice struggling to find its way, desirous to make a mark, as one of Vincent's letters explains, is a voice with which anyone can identify.
Three or four times during the 90-minute performance, this company of voices assembled into a collective that offered the audience a ride on pure, mysterious, varying, harmonic sound. Excited, happy, mournful, violent, or weird, wherever the company needed to go, aurally they got there with their voices. This was primal and proved the highlight of the evening.
The visuals, on the other hand, countered the aural, disappointingly, with the obvious and repetitive. A grating "I love you" gesture cropped up throughout the performance, and the sexual gestures especially could use some refinement. It would behoove the company to recruit some genuine dancer/choreographer; someone who thinks in terms of stylized movement and uses only the eye, just as Ms. Kaplan complemented the performance with her ear. Too often the stage pictures lazed in view for much too long. A 20-minute reduction in running time would certainly strengthen the impact.
In a wonderful, cavernous space at 28 Avenue A, this company, led by artistic director Szlasa and "dedicated to the creation of new work for a new audience under a new aesthetic - which minimizes spectacle and maximizes the inherent power of live performance," occasionally achieved its manifesto.