Liz Gerring’s no-nonsense choreography impresses in ‘Horizon’

Brandon Collwes and Claire Westby dance in "Horizon."

THADDEUS ROMBAUER

Brandon Collwes and Claire Westby dance in “Horizon.”

Liz Gerring is such a jock. In contrast to those choreographers of both sexes who accessorize their dances with frilly gestures, who hesitate and take the roundabout way, Gerring analyzes situations steely-eyed and moves quickly to deploy her forces. Her invigorating new piece “Horizon,” which the Liz Gerring Dance Company unveiled at Montclair State University’s Alexander Kasser Theater last week, is a dance for heroes.

Bold, honest and athletic, this piece focuses on getting the job done, with no sob stories and no emotional strings attached. If a bunch of guys ever hunkered down on the sofa to watch dance on television on Thanksgiving Day, this is the kind of dancing they would watch. Yet “Horizon” is beautiful and subtly crafted.

Molly Griffin and Claire Westby lead the way in, pacing each other and seeming to measure the stage by the distance between them — until Westby suddenly moves farther away, breaking the tension. They also introduce Gerring’s thrifty style. Pursuing their goals, her dancers are in a hurry. Then someone lands, smack, on a target, cutting off the movement with a twist of her body or allowing the momentum to flow beyond extended limbs. When a shape achieves its maximum potential in a balance or a lunge, time doesn’t seem to matter anymore. One dancer may remain fixed in place, like a statue, while the others keep busy.

Directions in “Horizon” are sharp and clear, never evasive. Joseph Giordano is a wild card, dressed in red and consistently moving backward, but there’s never any doubt which way he’s going. Sometimes a dancer takes aim at us, narrowing our view and radically foreshortening his silhouette, but Gerring never tries to trick us. If she ordered her dancers to tackle us, they would, so it’s just as well that audience participation isn’t in her game plan.

For the most part, Gerring is content to live inside the rectangular “light box” that designer Robert Wierzel created for “Horizon.” He has contributed an open structure with no wings consisting of the Marly floor, an opaque backdrop that changes tints and an illuminated ceiling panel that colors, too. Wierzel’s hues are more delicate than Gerring’s movement — they include turquoise and peach, as well as simple red and blue — but while these shadings soften the impact of the dancing they don’t affect its purposeful mood. As if to prove her independence from the rectangle, Gerring may begin a phrase off to the side, outside the box; and at one point a dancer reaches across the invisible fourth wall that separates the audience from the stage. Although everything is open, the choreographer manages to surprise us when Julia Jurgilewicz appears suddenly, diving out of nowhere into a man’s arms.

Michael J. Schumacher’s music offers a grab bag of sounds: clattering noises, thumping electronica and indistinct vocals. When all seven of Gerring’s dancers share the stage, we see a similar accumulation of visual elements — but happening all at once. Instead of dividing her ensemble into interactive groups or layers, Gerring makes connections between people widely separated in space. Two dancers will perform gesture “A” here, while a third person takes the same position over there, with others scattered in between. These pictures are like mosaics; but the moment when a pattern suddenly emerges gives the viewer a feeling of deep satisfaction, in much the same way that we feel rewarded when an individual dancer hits his mark and a gesture or a pose becomes complete. “Horizon” is a dance about effort and accomplishment; and what little partnering there is suggests teamwork rather than entanglement.

Montclair’s Peak Performances commissioned this premiere, which, amusingly, follows a very different kind of dance piece in this series. It’s hard to imagine a greater contrast in style than the one separating Gerring’s sleek “Horizon” from Pat Graney’s flamboyant and mysterious “Girl Gods,” which Peak Performances offered in October. Placed side by side, these dances make a wonderful statement attesting to the power and versatility of women choreographers today.

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