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Funky global dance on display at ICA

Susan Saccoccia | 1/18/2011, 7:38 p.m.
“The Whiz” was performed by Nicholas Leichter Dance at the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston last weekend. Steven Shreiber

Humor and surprise peppered the spectacle. Slightly built Aaron Draper, not sinewy Keon Thoulouis, did a solo as a boxer, outfitted in red trunks and a black helmet and mitts. Laurie Taylor was sensational in close-ups wearing ruffled tops that varied from green and purple to red, the color that dominated the reverent finale.

As the taut, rhythmic backbone of “The Whiz” yielded to a waft of melodic strings, Stephanie Liapis, in a red tutu, did a lean balletic solo that Lauren Basco repeated wearing a red sundress. Monstah Black placed a pair of ruby pumps on the stage with ritual care. Leichter, wearing a gold sequin fedora (another nod to Jackson), danced a spectacular solo. Then he stepped into the sparkling pumps and clicked his heels three times.

“Killa” was a fast moving aural and visual blend of underground dance attitudes, styles, and music set to a pulsing hip hop soundtrack by MIA, Basement Jaxx and Monstah Black.

Deft lighting by Christine Shallenberg and costumes by nldnyc created a black, beige and white palette for the dancers. The ensemble came on stage in funked-up office wear — huge eyeglasses, shirts and big ties. Exciting, edgy and propulsive from the start, they pulsed and postured and cut taut, air-punching, crouch grabbing moves with and behind the beat. Black pants framed the dancers’ bare feet as they pumped in unison like miniature, syncopated puppets.

Monstah Black appeared behind a net of ropes, like a spider in its web, and emerged to taunt and coax the dancers toward transformation. In a heavily accessorized black unitard that covered his body with a white skeleton, he slithered across the stage in ultra-high silver platform shoes, suggesting a figure from the underworld. He cast mischievous spells and with unseen strings turned Dawn Robinson’s sinuous solo into the dance of a robotic marionette. Then, hissing like a serpent, he departed. All eight dancers returned, dressed in camouflage and khaki garb (a reference to U.S. soldiers in the Middle East?).

After a mesmerizing solo by Leichter that unfolded like an intense soliloquy, his company came back for an exultant finale. Each member took a turn at a signature solo as the audience clapped with the dancers in a communal backbeat.