Kevin O’Day, whose newly formed group, O’Day Dances, opened the annual Altogether Different series at the Joyce, is a guy with unerring footing: Again and again, he’s managed to be in the right place at the right time. His history as a late-start dancer goes like this: Joffrey Ballet; Twyla Tharp; American Ballet Theatre (under Baryshnikov’s reign); Frankfurt Ballet, where William Forsythe’s slick choreographic ploys weren’t lost on him; Baryshnikov’s White Oak Dance Project. O’Day choreographed his first piece in 1994, for White Oak; his second was commissioned the same year by Peter Martins for the New York City Ballet. He’s been invited back several times by both camps – and by other prominent groups joining the bandwagon.
I can understand O’Day’s easy popularity. Mixing ballet, modern, and colloquial dance vocabularies, he produces works with a lot of surface appeal. His structures are clear (simplistic, if you ask me); his action is lively, juicy, and as full of contemporary attitude as a Jay McInerney novel. His dances keep the eye entertained, albeit briefly. If they lack complexity, mystery, poetry, and the power to disturb and move you – well, today’s average culture consumer isn’t much interested in these things anyway. And if ever there was choreography made with its main focus on the consumer, it’s O’Day’s.
His chamber-size group, so recently organized as to look ad hoc, is composed of appealing dancers fluent in both classical and modern technique. A couple are NYCB alums; all are remarkably agile, delivering exactitude with a casual air. Their repertoire comprises some of O’Day’s earlier commissions (reviewed in these pages as they appeared) along with his latest effort, a quintet called And Like That, set to music you might call postmodern country and western. (It’s by John King, with whom the choreographer has declared an ongoing alliance.) The new piece, which repeats itself and O’Day’s previous work, appears to have two themes: man’s relationship to his animal aspect and the confrontation between the classical and modern genres. Paul Taylor (in Cloven Kingdom, et al.) and Tharp (with Deuce Coupe, which juxtaposed her company’s vernacular style with the Joffrey’s ballet mode) dealt, respectively, with these subjects so originally, thoroughly, and effectively, it would seem nothing more need be said. If there is anything further to discover, O’Day will have to dig far deeper – in terms of movement and feeling – to make an impression.