On Saturday night, a huge crowd of dance fans jammed into the Lied Center to put the lie to Tom Wolfe's assertion that "you can't go home again."
Indeed, the warm homecoming for Lawrence native Karole Armitage gave everyone something to celebrate. However, it was Armitage's brilliant work as artistic director and choreographer for her much lauded Armitage Gone! Dance that provoked "wows" ranging from sublime murmurs to gasps of awe.
Now 53, Armitage, whose impressive credentials as an internationally renowned dancer and choreographer embrace everything from classical to brash forays as a "punk ballerina," brought us a trio of challenging new works tethered to the deeply evocative neo-classical music of Annie Gosfield, Gyorgy Ligeti and Bela Bartok.
In the first of these, "In This Dream That Dogs Me" (2005), five dancers, two women and three men, moved through a sequence of striking patterns motivated by powerful cross-currents of desire set to Gosfield's arresting score. Pursuing, catching, coupling and then losing one another in permutations of one to five, the disorienting theme of dream-like loss of self, even in the midst of others, was given indelible form by Armitage's rich gestural vocabulary.
From jangling shakes to lyric romps studded with eye-grabbing thrusts, twists and spins, Armitage's kaleidoscopic dreamscape was italicized by and melded into Gosfield's coruscating strings and the haunting strains of what sounded like a slightly de-tuned piano. It was a potent visual-musical hallucination every bit as impressive as the Salvador Dali-Alfred Hitchcock-Bernard Herrmann collaboration for "Spellbound" (1945).
For "Ligeti Essays" (2007), which premiered in New York City in February, Armitage deployed the seven virtuosos of her troupe in a suite of beautifully conceived dances driven by the hypnotic folk-inflected music of Gyorgy Ligeti. Here, as in her other work, Armitage expanded on modern dance's repertory by bringing into play all parts of the body, including necks, elbows and hands. At the same time, the insinuating way her dancers moved - the 45-degree angle slides, the push-offs of hands on arms and seductive hip maneuvers - coalesced in vibrantly fluid designs.
One would be remiss without directly crediting Armitage's dancers. Leonides D. Arpon, Matthew Branham, Frances Chiaverini, Theresa Ruth Howard, William Issac, Ryan Kelly and Mei-Hua Wang are inspiring as well-disciplined artist-athletes of the first rank completely at home in their own skins, and clearly at one with Armitage's vision.
"Time Is the Echo of an Axe within a Wood," which debuted in 2004 and then was revised in 2006, brought the evening to a dramatic close. Set to the stirring "Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta" by Bela Bartok, the company's three women and four men danced through a set of liquid, push-pull movements that, while a meditation on time also were an ode to a sensuality at once playful, ethereal and earthy.
At evening's end, the inter-braided tensions and releases of Armitage's spectacular program brought the house to its feet for a rousing ovation. It was a homecoming we won't forget.