Yi Chun Li in 'Primo Toccare'

It is a rare choreographer who makes you feel you are not waiting for anything to happen, because it already is happening – every moment “a visible action of life”, as Merce Cunningham once put it. In Balletto Teatro di Torino’s New York debut on Tuesday night before a small but enthusiastic audience, 31-year-old Matteo Levaggi proved to possess that elusive talent.

For Primo Toccare (First Touch) – the first of two programmes of his work at the Joyce this week – he hedges his bets, allowing himself and his collaborators to stuff the dance with accessory meanings. Art-fashion team Corpicrudi lays the vanitas on thick with a coffin-shaped vitrine that displays first a skull and lilies, then two motionless models standing while staring blankly out at us. The sound score denatures the heavy breathing of lovemaking so it turns into white noise; on the other hand, it blasts churchy organ at such high decibels, you pray for earplugs.

Yet Levaggi – a pure product of Turin Ballet whom long-time director Loredana Furno designated resident choreographer at the tender age of 23 – is so engaged in the essential choreographic questions of timing and juxtaposition that the Euro-angst pretensions do not stick. Primo Toccare’s confidence in dance as an end in itself carries us through on a serene pulse of attention.

Step for step, the movement is nothing special. Batsheva’s Ohad Naharin achieves more dramatic effects with a torso’s squiggly undulations. Other choreographers have used splay-fingered, wrist-cocked monster hands just as endearingly. The flying karate legs with cantilevered torso are a Forsythe speciality. And Levaggi’s fondness for squatting fourth positions reminds me of Cunningham.

But the tone of sublime gentleness, which even presides over the dance’s dubious End Times finish, is his own. The eight, mostly local dancers – the swan-necked, lean-limbed, pleasingly effeminate men; the voluptuously direct women – respond with a vibrant translucence.

Levaggi demonstrates an unerring sense of how long to sustain a pattern or gesture before intervening with another. He knows when to narrow our focus to a single dancer and when eclectic clusters would excite; when to assemble a still line of bodies down the centre and when to have them flicker along the margins. He notices how life moves – “the rain that comes from the clouds and sends you into the drugstore for a cup of coffee, each thing that succeeds each thing”, Cunningham said – and he finds it beautiful.

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