Striking ‘3 X 3’ is a Square Success

Boston Conservatory Dance Theater debuts impressive new pieces

Black silhouettes dance against a bright pink backdrop—but no, this isn’t an iPod commercial. It’s the opening image of Olivier Besson’s “A Time Upon Once,” the first of three newly choreographed pieces to debut at the Boston Conservatory Dance Theater Friday night.

As part of the performance, aptly titled “3 X 3”, the dance students of the Boston Conservatory and artistic director Yasuko Tokunaga also presented Tommy Neblett’s “Fractured” and Gianni Di Marco’s “On the Brink.”

Both “A Time Upon Once” and “Fractured” were compelling pieces, each approaching human connections from different angles. Although the first two pieces were well choreographed and performed, “On the Brink” completely outshone the preceding performances.

“A Time Upon Once,” with musical accompaniment by Mike Vargas, was notable for its improvisation. Although its free-flowing nature necessarily made the piece feel less polished, the cohesiveness of the dance showed how well the performers worked together on stage.

The dancers, all senior students at the Conservatory, brought a great deal of energy to their parts. In particular, each soloist’s performance had its own personality: one dancer exuded confidence, gazing directly at the audience, while another expertly portrayed both loneliness and distress. Most remarkable was the piece in which three dancers created a single moving entity by letting their three bodies constantly touch and overlap, a marked contrast with the preceding solo dances.

Like “A Time Upon Once,” “Fractured” also began and ended with variations of the same image. The dance started without accompanying music as the entire cast of sophomore dancers faced the audience, stamping and thrusting their arms upwards.

Although the dancers’ choreography and skill in “Fractured” were just as impressive and artistically striking as in “A Time Upon Once,” the tone of the piece made it more jarring and less enjoyable than the first.

Andy Vores composed the music, a mix of synthesized sounds and live orchestra, especially for the dance. Vores’ use of remixed radio excerpts and other unconventional noises complemented the piece’s “fractured” aspect well. But the dissonance of the music, at one point accompanied by an alarm-like bell from the live percussion, made for a rather unpleasant listening experience. The dancers frequently placed their hands on their foreheads as part of the choreography, but at points the motion seemed more like a reaction to Vores’ screeching tones.

The music of “On the Brink,” by contrast, was not only remarkably compelling, but also complemented the choreography perfectly. The choice honored the 70th birthday of its composer, Philip Glass, this year.

The piece’s style also differentiated it from the other two dances. Choreographers conceived “On the Brink” as an abstract ballet, and the dancers’ performance was technically exquisite, with ensemble movement perfectly synchronized. The piece was by far the most energetic of the three, and “On the Brink” demonstrated a much clearer emotional journey than the preceding works.

As the dance opened, the dancers reached upwards but seemed weighed down by their own bodies. By the end, however, they broke whatever bonds restrained them and literally gasped in relief. The final image was one of complete release: the dancers were centered on stage, arms outstretched, as petals fell on them from above.

Although “A Time Upon Once” and “Fractured” were both absorbing pieces, “On the Brink” raised the standard of “3 X 3” as a whole. The total commitment and skill of the dancers and the compelling musical accompaniment combined to make Di Marco’s choreography the most memorable of the night.