I kept writing in my notes: "THROWN." Choreographer Ulysses Dove asks dancers to throw themselves into a movement: throw a leg or an arm or a back, so far in a direction that it goes past the axis of where a leg or an arm or a back normally goes, with such force that for a moment this body part has its independence. Things in Dove's dances move fast, so the moments are fleeting and the body parts swing right back in line, but you don't forget that freedom. It's like when a singer rushes toward a scream but pulls back at the last possible instant. Release is so close.
It is a very good idea to imprint Ulysses Dove's works on as many American dancers as possible now that he is gone. Dove died of an AIDS-related sickness in 1996. He was 49 and had danced with Alvin Ailey and Merce Cunningham. He set one of his last dances, Red Angels, on four dancers at New York City Ballet, and one of those was Peter Boal, now the director of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Boal has focused several times on Dove at PNB, most memorably presenting in 2006 the intense, sorrowful Dancing on the Front Porch of Heaven, which knocked me out (along with the rest of the audience).
The three of 3 by Dove are Vespers, an homage to Dove's grandmother (she must have been quite a woman the way these dancers spin and pull at their own skirts); Red Angels, a showcase for four dancers set to driving electric violin (violinist Mary Rowell earned every bit of her ovation last week); and Serious Pleasures, a dance about sex involving backlit venetian blinds, slamming doors, poles, and a narrator. (A fourth work on the program, Suspension of Disbelief by Victor Quijada, did not impress me any more than it did the last time PNB performed it in 2006. Then I thought it was the dancers' unease; now I suspect it may be the street-inflected choreography, which wants the bodies both thrilling and insouciant but comes off as fake in both directions.)
Dove makes an impression. Sometime dance critic Jim Demetre commented later that Serious Pleasures is a reminder that some things from the '80s should be left in the '80s, and I agree. The excessive tossing of ladies' bewigged heads only calls to mind Zoolander. And why is female sexuality depicted as either solo or hetero? Where are the lesbians?
But if Dove's dances occasionally go too far, they also handily separate the cast into dancers and artists. Those unwilling or unable to throw themselves into sometimes embarrassing, always strongly emotional movement stick out as heavy and blank—they almost disappear—while the others are so whiplike as to leave tracers on your eyes and brain.