Oona Doherty’s Navy Blue

Oz Arts’ season closer, Oona Doherty’s Navy Blue for 12 dancers, is a remarkable composition. In two parts, it juxtaposes Sergeï Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto with electronic music of Jamie XX. Someone the Guardian calls “dance’s next big thing,” Doherty’s choreographies are noted for their raw originality and their ability to connect strength with vulnerability—this was on striking display in Nashville during the June 1st performance.

(Photo D. Matvejevas)

For the first half of the piece, accompanied by the Rachmaninoff, Doherty stated that she wanted it to start out looking like a conventional dance company: “So the first part is that: you came to see a dance show? I’m gonna fucking give you a dance show. […] When you get 12 people to move in complete unison that is just relentless compromise and sacrifice. All different intentions, length of leg, how far you’re going to jump, all compromises going on for the greater good of the group.”

On the floor, this seemed to be manifested in unison movements that would coalesce during the clear presentation of themes in Rachmaninoff’s music. When there was a transition between themes in the music, the dancer’s movements would separate, only to reunite again at the next theme. It is a beautiful dance, if a bit conventional–but that is when all hell broke loose. At this point we begin to understand that the piece is actually an expression of, or exercise in, “dread” (this is what she asked Jamie XX to evoke in his music).

(Photo D. Matvejevas)

Once accomplished, the transition to the second part realizes a broadening of focus from the earthly to the universal, not trivializing so much as emphasizing the meaningless, or perhaps minuteness of the fears and dread in the first half. And the second half is quite different; rather multidisciplinary. There is spoken word addressing the audience directly just as the dancers do. At one point, all stand in a row, depicting in an almost deconstructed abstract visual, a moving painting portraying the many faces and bodies of humanity at once—faces suffering, faces in joy, in greed, in hate, in elation—each a schema and moving sculpture of its expression. It seems that one of Doherty’s genius is in the efficient depiction of emotion through the simplest gesture—agony in a forced smile, dread in a shaken head.

Overall, Navy Blue is a bizarrely relentless negative expression that culminates with a blurred, isolating, and heartrending solo. From all this negativity Doherty relieves us in one remarkable gesture at the end, it made me gasp in spite of myself. Navy Blue is done with Nashville, moving to the Joyce Theater in New York next. Can you imagine? they came to Nashville first. Bravo Oz!! I can’t wait for next season!!

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