Garth Fagan is such an astute choreographer, he can (almost) be excused for the inept titles he applies to his dances. Music of the Line/Words in the Shape, given its local premiere during his company’s recent two-week run at the Joyce, lacks the poignancy that suffuses some of his work. But the detached viewpoint of the piece – inspired, perhaps, by the futuristic John Adams music to which it’s set – makes Fagan’s keen sense of composition all the more evident, and gratifying.
In the first part of the dance, Fagan plays a group of four figures against a set of three, creating images of harmonious imbalance typical of Asian art. The dancers are soon sent traveling on horizontal paths, echoing the perpetual-motion aspect of the score, but stopping briefly to do remarkable things such as fling a svelte leg sky-high, then lower it, not with the fluidity its upward sail predicted but by sharply indicated notches. At times, all but one of the dancers form a stilled or slow-motion matrix to offset febrile motion from the odd person out – who promptly rejoins the little society as if he’d never had any divergent adventures.
Somber and haunting, as befits the music, which features a violin singing over disquieting background hum, the second section opens with a trio for two men and a woman in which none of the participants appears to recognize the existence of the others. Alternately they engage in exquisite intertwinings and lifts or stand starkly isolated (though only inches away from one another), gazes numbly fixed on nothingness. After a time, this trio shifts its position from the side to the center of the stage, its anomie persisting despite the changed locale. It’s succeeded by a second threesome and then a third, all perpetuating the atmosphere of remoteness and nonengagement. That every last one of us is alone in the dark is hardly a new idea, but Fagan manages to give it renewed eloquence – not through expressive techniques but by the canny juxtaposition of one pose, one gesture, one movement phrase, one placement in space with another.
The piece concludes with an adagio for two couples, one all-male, one all-female, who are glowingly illuminated, while off to the side seven other figures scramble around in busy confusion in the dusk. The dance doesn’t come together with any final significance, but nearly everything in it is wonderfully crafted, fascinating in its tactics and invention, and, as is typical of Fagan’s company, gorgeously performed.