The Integrity of Movement: Bryan Koulman Dance Company

by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal | photo credit: Lauren Hirsch

From June 6th through 8th at The Performance Garage, Bryan Koulman Dance Company presented a collection of works with special guest dancers from The Pennsylvania Ballet and Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers. With movement fitting various styles and moods, Koulman has taken classical vocabulary and clothed it in passion and an adventurous spirit. Emotionally, dance can be inaccessible to an audience, but Koulman’s ear for music coupled with the artistry of his dancers can jumpstart an inner groove in any heart. The atmosphere of collaboration that forms is an effortless rapport between the movers, the musicians and the members of the audience.

Weather Report began as dancers claimed their place as pawns do on a chess board. Standing statuesquely in silhouette and working through simplified postures, each dancer’s work was purely solitary. The next section transformed the room into a dance hall and presented as a memory of life scenes passing by. A comedic fight ensued, and the dancers resumed salsa and courageous partnering. A return to the structure of the beginning and the movement grew staccato as did the music. It was the ideal environment for guest dancer Nikolai McKenzie (Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers) to become engulfed in, with a disposition of isolation that Koulman wanted him to continue channeling in the solo that followed.

Icarus called for McKenzie to embark on a journey beyond the natural world. Beginning from a flat back position that resembled an uprooted tree, he swayed from side to side, filling the room with comfortable energy. This rocking movement was Koulman’s ‘immediate response to the music’ at the start of this work. With all-pervading musicianship from pianist Benjamin Richard Hoffman, McKenzie approached the movement with faith. As he ascended up the ladder he shared the stage with, he implied that he was reaching for something eons away. He descended the ladder, and faced the back wall, raising his arms as if they were hands on a clock. They ticked in time with the music, perhaps to signify time spent, or time lost, in the search of self. After his solo, an audience member openly discussed being drawn to McKenzie. Rightly so, McKenzie moved honestly and in total surrender to the music.

The third piece Haydn Concerto was music visualized as dancers embodied intricate scores from Josef Haydn. The work was classical ballet, but one striking instance of gesture stopped time. The dancers took a moment to place their hands in front of their faces, offering a powerful stillness that would have gone unnoticed if the work had taken a different path. According to Koulman, one dancer felt that this moment was “a visceral response to the searing nature of the music.”

With a robust dynamism, the pianist and cellist worked synergistically to push the dancers past their technical and dramatic limits. In Haydn existed stunning floor patterns that frequently changed shape and direction without prediction. A lovely pas de deux added a hint of romance after the challenging first section, equate to dessert wine after a heavy meal. Haydn will be remembered as a moving train, peppered with moments that reverberate stillness.

After a pause, Luna was earthbound in contrast to the elevation of Haydn. Floor work and a revolving hinge into an arched back showcased the flexibility of five female dancers. Along with choreography that is responsive to the music, Koulman places a priority on accentuating the line that his dancers possess, and the line is the superpower in Luna.

Trumpets, a trio for male dancers from Pennsylvania Ballet II, was a finale to remember. The distance created between the dancers and the floor seemed to grow and grow with this work as they reached great heights. With command of the stage and an aptitude for traveling, the dancers could use another stage’s worth of space if it was there. Trumpets was victorious, eliciting the euphoria of finishing first in a marathon.

Bryan Koulman’s work sits at the polar ends on the spectrum of ballet and modern dance, with deep respect and admiration for music composition taking up the middle. In an ever-changing world, his artistic voice preserves the integrity of the foundations of dance, all while using nuances in classical and contemporary music to raise the vibration and give color to his movements.

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