Though privileged to have witnessed firsthand the work of legends like Rudolf Nureyev, Merce Cunningham and Mikhail Baryshnikov, I admit to knowing less than nothing about dance and, until recently, not seeing a whole lot of reason to go to the trouble of aquainting myself with the state of the art. Mitchell Rose’s “Modern Daydreams” tipped me off to what I’ve been missing.
A commendably inventive and conceptual crossbreeding of comedy and cutting edge dance, the work consists of four performances, three comic and one classified as dramatic, in which lead dancer Jamey Hampton succumbs in the midst of everyday situations to reveries which lure him through a personal looking glass and into progressively whimsical fantasies.
The opener, “Treadmill Softly,” is perhaps the most pedestrian. Hampton, who emanates a Lettermanesque boyishness, plays a guy who goes to the gym one day, fixates on a female patron and constructs fantasies which parallel the form of exercise they happen to engage in. As they work out on rowing machines, Hampton imagines the two of them in wooden boats moving in syncopation on an idyllic country pond to the strains of Strauss’ Voices of Spring Waltz. They scale the facility’s climbing wall and he lifts off into a scenario in which they dangle from ropes on the side of a real mountain and perform a sort of high altitude tango.
“Islands in the Sky” literally takes things up a notch as dancers stand 50 feet in the air atop ingeniously choreographed cherry pickers and perform a mechanical yet delicate dance to the lilting and highly incongruous music of Jules Massenet.
In “Unleashed,” Hampton one sunny summer morning enters a workplace divided into cubicles inhabited by dreary Dilberts, looks longingly out a window to catch a glimpse of romping dogs and promptly disappears into a daydream set to Brahm’s familiar Hungarian Dance No. 5 in which his coworkers suddenly become as exuberantly playful as the canines. Innovative use is made of everything from conference tables to rolling office chairs and, for a few infectious moments, joyful abandon becomes job one.
Ironically, the last segment was the first of the four created by Rose, the only one completed in 2000 and the coolest of the lot by far. At just 3 minutes and 50 seconds “Deere John” is a mini masterwork in which a pedestrian drawn by an unseen force veers from his intended route, sprints across a field as though toward a lover only to come face to jagged metal face with a mammoth yellow earth-moving machine (identified as an Excavator 690E-LC in the film’s closing credits). The two proceed to perform a duet as astonishing in its grace as it is knee-slapping in its absurdity.
It may or may not be art. But it’s the first dance performance that has ever made me laugh out loud. “Modern Daydreams” was made possible by a grant from the National Initiative to Preserve America’s Dance. Here’s hoping Rose and company find the financing to dream up much much more of the same.