Luke Murphy may have only graduated from Point Park University three years ago, but his work reads like that of a choreographic veteran. The soft-spoken and charming native of Ireland now lives and works in New York City where he regularly performs and creates dance.
As part of the “East Liberty Live!” series at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Murphy presented an excerpt from his latest duet “Drenched,” which will be performed in full this November. He is no stranger to the KST, having shown work there for the past three years. Director of the theater, Janera Solomon, likes to build relationships with dancers, and saw in Murphy someone with “great ambition and a unique quality.”
Solomon is right about him. His movement style is distinct, without trying to be different. His athleticism is impressive, but his comfort with bringing emotion into his work, without drama, is even more inspiring.
Of his latest choreography, Murphy says, “I’m not feeling the pressure to produce something people like…I’m comfortable with bringing emotion onto the stage, although it is unpopular in dance these days.”
But Murphy does not take one personally emotional experience, and hash it out on stage while the audience is left wondering how it relates to them. Rather, in “Drenched,” he developed a personal theme into something relevant for anyone watching. He may not have been worried about whether or not we liked it, but he clearly created something relatable. Maybe that is just the way to approach it.
“Drenched” explores the idea of romance, and how it is viewed through the eyes of media and the arts. In explanation of the title, Murphy says, “There is something about when you are soaked by a heavy rain. You give in…realize that sunshine is not coming. There is an empowerment that comes with it. I think of passion that way.”
The sections shown Friday used both humor and darkness to convey the message that relationships are not always as romantic as we are led to believe. And finding a partner might not be as easy as filling out a questionnaire on a match making website.
While Sinead O’Connor crooned her most famous lyrics to “Nothing Compares to You,” Murphy’s character wrote love letters to a woman named Agnes. What began with the tender words one might hear in a great work of literature, ended with a truer and funny moment of anger.
Another humorous moment came when three video screens projected sentimental movie scenes, while Murphy and his partner, Carlye Eckert, mimicked the drama. The sarcasm brought laughter to the sappy nature of what we consider the classics.
In a more poignant section, the two dancers performed a duet as rose petals fell from the ceiling. Devoid of any melodrama, a relationship unfolded with quiet and smooth strength. Simple gestures combined with incredibly concise yet fluid floor work gave the phrasing a meditative quality.
To close, another movement section revealed a confrontation. Through weight sharing and effortless partnering, the more difficult aspects of a relationship ensued. With a dose of realism, the two pushed and pulled in fits and starts to reveal the feelings of hurt and loss we have all experienced in life.
There were many more clever and powerful moments, but to describe them all would give away the entire show. Instead, look for the full presentation this November. Murphy’s work is not to be missed.