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Headless Whorse Dance Company: Coal Walker

Self-presented at Theatre of the Riverside Church, 91 Claremont Ave., NYC, May 15-18.

More and more, on the contemporary dance scene, one is seeing productions grow out of collaborations between choreographers and visual artists. But unlike most of the partnerships, in which the choreographer's work is the guiding force, Headless Whorse Dance Company is the brainchild of visual artist Robin Rapoport, who has enlisted choreographer Angela Jones to add a kinesthetic dimension to Rapoport's sculptures, costumes, and puppets. "Coal Walker," an evening of their work presented at Theatre of the Riverside Church, comprised four ambitious pieces conceived and designed by Rapoport with choreography by Jones.

The strongest work on the program was the duet "Darkness is as Light," collaboratively choreographed by the dancers, Jones and L. Jonathan Collins. As the two performers speak psalm passages to one another, as if conversing with the Lord, the notion of God's existence within ourselves is cunningly suggested. When the text is replaced by music and the piece opens up choreographically, the dancing sustains the awe contained in the words. The couple is magnetized by each other, but so full of wonder at the other's presence that they move close together, intertwine, and interact, yet never touch.

Bookended by arresting images of Jones hanging way up high from a long silk drape (she's a professional aerial artist), "Headless Whorse" also succeeds in taking deeply felt, intangible notions and making them visual. The delight a child can take in experiencing new sights, sounds, and sensations without fully understanding them, nor feeling a need to, is evoked as Jones cavorts, swinging from the silk. Papier-mâché trees sing "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star"; a remote-controlled toy rides across the stage.

One imagines the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe as "B-52" opens with a cataclysmic sound and develops with a sci-fi sensibility. Six dancers squirm under a big white parachute, their bodies stretching and shaping it Nikolais-like. Though this work might have been innovative in the 1960s, today it's retro, yet a fun showcase for the powerhouse dancing of featured performer Cara Robino.

Completing the evening was a muddled solo, "Y me Y not," the program's only misfire.

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