Looking more like a rugby player than a dancer, David Dorfman is indeed dancer as opposed to jock, a master of effective communication through movement. Equally important to his sweeping popularity among modern-dance audiences, and his avid St. Louis base of fans, this Washington University alumnus creates works that are fun, exciting and awe-inducing on a purely aesthetic level.
Although Dorfman's contemporary-dance theater pieces aren't narrative in a strict sense, they do speak volumes. This is largely accomplished through the intense physicality of the works -- the kind that throws beads of sweat from dancers' bodies well out into the audience as limbs whip about in frantic, almost impossibly high-energy motion. Over and over, Dorfman finds new ways to communicate age-old issues. For example, in one of his signature pieces, he comments on the comedy of male bonding and male confusion over most all relationships by teaming up with another of his sex to prance, preen and swagger about while shouting at each other through bullhorns. It may sound odd, but Dorfman makes it work.
One of his highly unusual techniques involves hiring unlikely subjects as his dancers -- old guys with protruding guts, sports nuts, ashen-faced computer programmers -- and choreographing compelling moves for them. Although watching untrained dancers perform movement sounds like an awful idea -- sort of like attending amateur night at a comedy club -- these pieces are consistently powerful, a testament to Dorfman's ability to instill both the desire and the confidence to perform movement in nonperformers and then to make their movements meaningful for an audience.
This being the case, it's easy to imagine what Dorfman accomplishes with his own company of five highly trained dancers. Be they comic, poignant, angry, whimsical or a mix of all of these, Dorfman's pieces always captivate audiences with raw energy, frenetic movement, athleticism and an ability to tackle the complex universal themes of human existence. This weekend at the Edison Theatre, David Dorfman Dance will present two new pieces, "To Lie Tenderly" and "Subverse."
In "To Lie Tenderly," the dancers are penned in by a three-sided wall of white fabric as video images are projected on a rotating sign above them. Dorfman says the pieces use the image of the rock & roll persona as a jumping-off point to explore people's ability or inability to be real with each other or to be at rest with each other. "Subverse" uses three red fabric columns in a dance that looks at what lies beneath, or what people see when they read between the lines. The choreographer says, "The columns are made of fabric, but initially the audience will think they're strong, like pillars ... Only further into the piece is their true nature apparent." Although "Subverse" premiered in 1999, Dorfman says, "I find it very relevant with what just happened with the [World Trade Center] towers."
Dorfman says neither piece focuses on eliciting any single emotional response, though, and that audiences will walk away having experienced a broad sweep of feelings -- pretty much par for an evening with David Dorfman Dance.