As summer creeps to a close, I thank the stars for the Shins: look beneath the mind-bending time signatures of this pop group and you’ll find a neo-folk style that straddles eras as well as genres. Its easy evocation of coltish youth suits Trey McIntyre’s choreography for the Shins-titled Oh, Inverted World, part of the Smuin Ballet’s summer engagement at the Joyce Theater last week. Unfolding in eight segments, this work finds sun-kissed joy as well as ambiguous terror in a movement vocabulary that veer from somnambulistic struts marking the cyclical ritualism embedded in youthful frolic, to the wild abandon that still strikes fear in the hearts of those with too-short memories of their callow years. Sharp angles melt into yogic references; abetted by Sandra Woodall’s costumes (jewel-dotted tops for the women, blue and red running shorts for the men), a helium-infused gravitational pull transforms the company’s dancers into creatures who gambol and frug as if life and movement were synonymous. Would that Soon These Two Worlds, the troupe’s other New York premiere, provided the same endearing fillip; the war, and the disconnect between the rhythmic percussiveness of Kronos Quartet’s Pieces of Africa and Amy Seiwert’s pretty, if underwhelming choreography felt palpable; nonetheless, the company, a protean bunch of artists, managed to put it over with aplomb. In between, the Smuin-choreographed Medea from 1977 provided a bit of old-fashioned drama writ economically large thanks to the gifts of John Speed, Christian Squires, Terez Dean, Jonathan Dummar and Susan Roemer as Medea.
The summer of love, not to mention Vietnam, looms in Dogfight, a new musical at Second Stage that also closed this weekend. Based on Bob Comfort’s 1991 film that starred a young Lily Taylor, the best and worst impulses of 20-something youth circa 1963 are explored in a story whose distasteful plot (indulging a ritual, a bunch of young Marines vie for a money pot by seeing who can land the homeliest date) gives way to a meditation on masculinity and maturity in our country’s post-Camelot days. Benj Pasek, Justin Paul and Peter Duchan (music and lyrics, and book, respectively) craft a show less genuflecting to Sondheim than such Great White Way humanists as Maltby/Shire, David Yazbek and Maury Yeston. Sometimes merely tuneful, often much more (the title song singed the hair on my arms), the show was directed by Joe Mantello, who with this season’s Other Desert Cities arguably ascends as the theatrical director of the decade; cast standouts included Dierdre Friel, Derek Klena and, memorably, Lindsay Mendez as Rose. May Dogfight find new life on other stages—I can’t think of another piece that feels attuned both to the way we were, and the way we currently are. As the stage becomes awash in a Haight-Ashbury glow at play’s end, one yearns for a similar summer revolution to descend upon our current political state. But November is another tale.