Bebe Miller Company: Necessary Beauty

Dance Theater Workshop, New York City
November 11–15, 2008

A Review

Necessary Beauty is a marathon of a dance. It runs for 75 minutes with only a few minor phrases that give the audience time to breathe. Of course, the dancers are on and off stage so that they are perhaps unaware of how the dance drives the viewer.

The stage is open: Wings are exposed to the walls. The teaser is raised. The fly rail, the light trees, the flies are all décor. On stage toward the back wall are two gleaming white panels, which together run the width of the stage. The floor is covered with a white Marley.

The dance starts before the house lights are out with dancers weaving in and out of the “trees” to the overture music. This weaving is perhaps the only lento movement we shall experience.

A soloist enters pell-mell with pell-mell sounds, and the marathon is begun. There are slowly changing (the one slow item in the concert) projections on the panels. The solo is long, but at long last the soloist is joined by others, who have occasional slow bits in lighted off-stage areas. We have duets, other soloists, and group dances. There is a slow section that comes late in the program where the dancers sit on chairs. This is but a too-brief respite, and we are off again.

I rush to tell you that all of this is compelling. But I did keeping waiting for a place to catch my breath. From one “rush” to the next there seemed little development: the episodic whole was made of diverse driving pieces. When motion began to seem redundant, they sat on chairs (but only briefly).

Each dancer—Angie Hauser, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Kristina Isobelle, Bebe Miller, Cynthia Oliver, and Yen-Fang Yu—is a soloist in her own right. The musician, Albert Mathias, could stand alone. The conception is daring. The visual images, which are an entity in themselves, are interesting. It seemed to me that the music drove the motion, and that the visuals were from an aesthetic of counter balance, so perhaps it is they which were intended to serve us “lento.”

One cannot fault the dancers. They are accomplished, clear and charismatic. Taken apart, piece-by-piece, the individual dances may make a whole unto themselves. The dances are related in tempo and drive and basic rhythms, but I was not aware of any development of motional themes. Chairs did relate to chairs and did develop into a group of chairs. In the projected images the outdoors slowly overran the indoors in a sort of development.

Over the several years that this piece was being developed, company members were scattered hither and yon. Bebe discussed and composed this work via DVD and e-mail discussion, meeting occasionally for group rehearsal. How wonderful that these devices exist! However, is it possible that this long-distance method of composition and occasional rehearsal is responsible for the monotone of tempo? I had thought to lay it, possibly, at the desk of the musician, which, as interesting as some of the passages were, all had that “go-go-go.”

I trust that there will be changes when next I view this work. Bebe, like every dance artist I know, must love what she creates, but having created it, finds that urge to create anew—that necessity to transform this beauty to an even more Necessary Beauty.

—Ruth Grauert, November 2008