Sewell + Bad Plus = Sly New Work

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Sunday October 18, 2009

From Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune
By Caroline Palmer

The Minneapolis choreographer and the locally rooted jazz trio make for a splendid pairing.

I went on Thursday night, and it was well worth the price of admission. The ‘Simple Folk’ number is excellent, as are the Bad Plus pieces. Overall, the music is astounding, and with one or two exceptions, the dancing was, too.

Choreographer James Sewell has found kindred spirits in the audacious indie-jazz collective the Bad Plus. His “The Bad Plus Us,” which had its world premiere Thursday night at the O’Shaughnessy, balances precariously on the edge of creative anarchy in much the same way his musical partners tend to do.

Sewell experiments with several movement and stagecraft ideas — too many, really — but locates a groove that often matches the rhythmic twists and turns of the Bad Plus’ cocktail-lounge-gone-hardcore aesthetic.

The work unfolds within a high-contrast, pop-art setting: a clear plastic backdrop with black stripes, costumes in shades of black, gray and white. It feels busy when everyone is onstage, but in less populated sections the effect ably frames the dancers in motion.

“The Bad Plus Us” reveals its sly self-assurance in key moments, as when Chris Hannon fearlessly dives from his feet to his hands in one smooth action, or Nicolas Lincoln, Eve Schulte and Stephanie Wolf shimmy together in cool unison, or the ensemble line-dances through a deconstructed hoedown.

At one point cellophane ends up wrapped around the dancers, restricting their movements, eventually binding them together. It’s an unnecessary gimmick and momentum-stopper, but is quickly tossed aside as the performers return to the far more fascinating task of negotiating their way in and around the complex musical score.

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