David Dorfman Dance’s latest explores commitment, community and intimacy
David Dorfman has returned to Connecticut College, after taking a sabbatical during the spring. The reason for the time off? He was working as the choreographer on the play “Indecent,” which opened on Broadway on April 18. It ended up nominated for a trio of Tonys, winning two.
Dorfman, the chair of the dance department at Conn College, is not only teaching here again post-sabbatical (“I’m just in love with being back teaching,” he says), but he and his lauded modern dance company, David Dorfman Dance, are also performing their new work, “Aroundtown,” at the school's Palmer Auditorium on Saturday. DDD, which is marking its 30th anniversary, is company-in-residence at Conn College.
Dorfman says “Aroundtown” deals with love, loss, empathy, joy and forgiveness. The DDD website offers: “‘Aroundtown’ is a kinetic poem that examines the varied, unique and sometimes divided notions of love — its meaning, purpose and platform … The work explores commitment, community and intimacy in times of violence and strife.”
The piece, which premiered at the Bates Dance Festival in Maine in July, boasts six DDD members, with Dorfman and his wife, Conn associate professor of dance Lisa Race, in cameos. Four musicians are part of the production, too, playing original music; Dorfman joins in for a bit on drums and melodica. After the New London performance, DDD will stage "Aroundtown" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music Nov. 8-11.
DDD began developing the piece back in 2014-2015. Dorfman and the company’s dancers were looking at different kinds of love in a trio of movies that Dorfman says he quotes often, and that eventually developed into “Aroundtown.”
The first of those movies is “Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” a 1964 French musical by director Jacques Demy about unrequited love and featuring “lush, lush music,” as Dorfman describes it, by Michel Legrand. Dorfman speaks, too, about the opening credits, with “just gorgeous” images shot from above of people walking as they hold umbrellas, as well as scenes in alleys that are dark but still boast a great deal of color.
While the vividness of color and sensation from “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” stayed with DDD in developing “Aroundtown,” other elements went by the wayside.
“We gradually left many notions of ‘Umbrellas’ behind, including all of the music, but we kept the feeling of it … the image of love that’s just in the distance but always there, omnipresent but perhaps out of reach,” Dorfman says. “I think our goal is, how do we get joy, love, forgiveness, redemption, all those things, and get them in reach? How do we make them part of our everyday lives, even though there’s so much pain, even though there’s so much suffering, and how can we be our best people to each other, to ourselves?”
The second movie instrumental in the genesis of “Aroundtown” is “Love Actually.” The placard scene, where a man uses signs to express his love for a woman, was influential, as was the final image, where a mosaic of people hugging at the airport turns into, as Dorfman describes it, a giant screen of love.
Whether literal placards will remain in “Aroundtown” wasn’t clear when Dorfman spoke a week ago, since the dance company was still developing the work.
As for the final mosaic of airport reunions in “Love Actually,” Dorfman says, “Isn’t that love? Isn’t that one of the most lovely things on Earth, if someone’s there, they’re around for you, they’re around to embrace you.”
He discusses “this notion of our everyday actions, like the literally looking someone in the eye, regarding someone, saying, ‘How are you?’ and really meaning it and listening for a response. Those are the things that build up a better world. That, I think, … is what this piece (‘Aroundtown’) is about. It’s about really seeing each other … In essence, being around.”
The third film is Lars von Trier’s dark drama “Dogville,” which is about treacherous behavior in a small town.
“’Dogville’ is a bizarre tale of isolation, welcoming, cruelty and revenge,” Dorfman says. “In an odd way, like ‘Our Town,’ on which I’ve worked recently, ‘Dogville,’ with its minimal setting, especially for a movie, begins to resemble any town, any collection of characters, mining their most exaggerated goods and evils. I wanted ‘Aroundtown’ to be that ‘model’ town, but with joy pushed to the top, to the brim, so it would win, not via revenge but by acclamation, election, and action.”
Dorfman references John Lennon's lyric "Love is the answer."
"I feel we get into camps pretty quickly and easily these days: good and evil, liberal and conservative, and on and on," Dorfman says. "For us to have even an iota of empathy and understanding of folks unlike us, we perhaps need to recognize the continuum within each of us in regard to emotions, deeds, thoughts. It's too easy to condemn — much more difficult to listen carefully and learn from the world. We try to model that in 'Aroundtown' by dancing with intimacy and revealing ourselves on stage with vulnerability and honesty."
In performances, DDD tends to do a great deal of partnering; the dancers are interdependent, falling into each other's arms and lifting each other high — all physical metaphors, Dorfman says.
And one more note: Dorfman says “Aroundtown” is also flavored by the fact that this is his 14th year living in New London.
“I feel I know New London a bit now. It’s my/our town, with all its blemishes and wonders,” he says. “I spent two magical years here 1979-1981 getting my MFA in Dance at Conn College. Now I teach there and live in this lovely town, for a good while. We rehearse here a lot as a company. The dancers and musicians go out to eat and stay in New London. We are carrying some of our experiences on stage with us. New London has shaped our feelings about making art here and about the way we regard each other on a daily basis.”
“Aroundtown” is just one of the projects for the very busy Dorfman.
He just choreographed the production of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People” at Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven. (He worked on “Assassins” at Yale Rep with the same director, James Bundy, earlier this year.)
Dorfman did the movement/choreography for a production of “Our Town” at the Pasadena Playhouse by Deaf West Theatre; the show is performed in both American Sign Language and spoken English. The company also did acclaimed versions of “Spring Awakening” and “Big River” on Broadway.
He provided choreography for “Imagine, If You Will …” for The Dancing Wheels Company, where 1/3 of the cast were in wheelchairs. It was presented in New York.
Those all were staged this fall. In the new year, Dorfman will choreograph Conn College students’ production of “Spring Awakening.”
One more note about “Indecent,” which was nominated for a Tony award for best play and won Tonys for director Rebecca Taichman and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind: one of its Broadway performance was filmed and will air on Nov. 17 on PBS’s “Great Performances.”
David Dorfman Dance’s “Aroundtown,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Palmer Auditorium, Connecticut College, New London; $28, $25 seniors, $14 students; (860) 439-2787.
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