Ten dancers in coveralls lie onstage in near darkness. As if waking from a nightmare, one raises her head, curls her body and begins rocking. That motion soon spreads to the others, in waves, until they are all crouching and twisting and kicking over, like B-boys vamping in preparation for power moves.
In these first moments of Victor Quijada’s “Ever So Slightly,” much of its method and mood are established. Mr. Quijada’s apt term for that method, Rubberband, is also the name of his Montreal-based company, making its Joyce Theater debut this week. Borrowing body-inverting floorwork and an elastic flow from hip-hop, his choreographic style takes its patterning and construction from contemporary dance. At its most exciting, as when a dancer tossed in the air hangs in suspension before flying into reverse, the choreography has stretch and snap.
Here, the style is applied to group dynamics. The 10 dancers leave the stage only once and then en masse. Although there are solo breakouts, flashes of individuality at the center of the dance circle, Mr. Quijada is most interested in chain reactions, reflexes rippling through a pack, breaking points when something or somebody snaps.
“Ever So Slightly” would seem to imply subtle shifts, though, and there is nothing subtle about this production. Yan Lee Chan’s lighting goes red or blasts the dancers from behind, and the music is even more heavy-handed. Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux, playing an impressive assortment of electronic and amplified instruments on one side of the stage, occasionally accent the action with distortion but keep snapping back into sappiness.
Increasingly, that’s the tone of the choreography, too — that of an emo band or of anguished adolescent poetry. The dancers twitch and contract as if troubled by stomach cramps. They mill and tussle with all the spontaneity and menace of a choreographed mosh pit. Everyone points at everyone else, spreading the blame.
They strip one another of their coveralls. They drag one another around by the coveralls. They cover their heads with the coveralls, some forcing others to kneel like prisoners. Don’t you see? Things are getting dark.
Almost none of this is believable, neither the aggression nor the feints at sociopolitical relevance. And after a blackout, with the dancers now vulnerable in their underwear, the mood of pitiful brokenness sinks further into cliché. This is the kind of dance in which one company member after another has a little mad scene while everyone else stands around and watches dumbly. It’s the kind in which everyone suddenly gangs up on someone, who then expresses his pain by hitting himself and falling over and flinching from touch. It’s the kind with hysterical laughter.
And it’s the kind that ends on a more hopeful note, with the dancers in pairs, one holding the other off the ground and spinning together as the curtain falls, just as it has fallen on many similar scenes.
Through Sunday at the Joyce Theater, Manhattan; joyce.org.