Image: Jennifer Wood

Nebria
Oct 10 & 11 at 8
$20
Suchu Dance
2480 Ella Blvd.
832-377-8248
suchudance.org 

Jennifer Wood’s Suchu Dance has its stomping grounds at what may be one of the coolest performance spaces in Houston. The company’s new Garden Oaks home on Ella Boulevard has been noted for its intimacy, but Wood’s dance works have always had an up-close-and-personal sensibility. Even when her work doesn’t directly address the audience, there’s little suggestion of a fourth wall. Suchu Dance’s home is special because it’s practically a white box theater in which even the simplest lighting has dazzling effects. For Nebria, Wood’s latest full-length effort, which ends its run this weekend, the space’s white-on-white color scheme and small size make an even greater impact because the show is a single, hour-long duet.

I first became acquainted with Suchu Dance through Wood’s large ensemble works, but her recent casts have reflected the dimensions of her new space. I’m partial to large groups of moving bodies, but rather than limit her dances, I feel that the small numbers have allowed for a deeper exploration of her themes and concerns. (Her spring quartet Steel Puffs Have Left the Building was one of last season’s highlights.) Such is the case in Nebria, in which dancers Sarah Leung and Prudence Sun explore movements inspired by the Nebria, a type of dung beetle native to North Africa.

Image: Jennifer Wood

Leung and Sun less beetle-like in their movement than in the way they travel through the space. An animation by company manager Vipul Divecha is projected on the back wall and shows a beetle dashing from one side of the screen to the other. That’s how the dancers eat the space. One moment they occupy a set space with a movement phrase that appears static, and then they’ll streak across the floor in seemingly aimless fury.

With only two bodies to focus on, it’s easy to see the style that has come to characterize Suchu’s work. In the first section, when Leung and Sun are not partnering so much as dancing in unison, there’s wonderful sequential movement, with initiation points at different parts of the body. The toes lead the body, then the head, then the fingertips. There’s also plenty of counterbalancing, which keeps the dance grounded, earthy, and relatable on a very primal level.

I assumed that an hour-long dance work for two dancers would be filled with breather sequences in which there might be acting or even a film clip or two to break up Wood’s high-energy choreography. But there’s not, which makes Nebria an impressive feat for the dancers. There is a definite sense of theatricality, however, especially in the facial expressions and interactions between the dancers. Leung tends to dance with a light-hearted step, and her face is often in an expression of universal agreeableness. Sun is a far more somber dancer who tends to project a more serious nature.

Dancing together, you begin to wonder what the relationship is between the two bodies. Are they friends? Enemies? Frenemies, perhaps? Are they two aspects of the same person? Or maybe the title of the show is meant to be taken more literally than figuratively. After all, the clean white space, the single table flanked by two chairs, and the blazing white lights overheard give the impression of a laboratory. The pair could be Nebria in a lab, the audience a stand-in for a scientist observing their goings-on. Whatever the case may be, the piece is at its best when the two are working together, either in conjunction or opposition. Who knew watching beetles at play could be this satisfying?

 

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