23rd of October 2012
SUNHWA CHUNG – KO-RYO DANCE THEATER
In her concert at Dance New Amsterdam (Ocyober17-20), Sunhwa Chung opens with a Korean traditional solo, “Of Love and Memories.” Then, her company of eight Asian and white dancers performs her featured full-company works, “Epilogue,” “Arirang – We Go Beyond the Crossroad,” and “The City From the Sky: Coming Together,” along with three smaller dances, all in her brand of Western modern dance.
In “Epilogue,” eight dancers carry folding chairs onto the stage, line them up, re-arrange them, and use them in various ways for support. Dressed in street clothes, the dancers focus frontally; we don’t really know who they are to each other or why they are so agitated. Music by Clint Mansell and Zbynek Matejo drives the action.
The premiere, “Arirang,” is a suite that reflects on Chung’s departure from Korea and assimilation to the United States. The assimilation is apparent in the borrowed modern dance tropes that comprise her choreography. Hands swiping across the face, crisscrossed arm shapes, side tilts in parallel passé, and falling rolls over the hips are among her favorite motifs; they recur persistently. White blouses and black skirts, embossed with a large white donut shape make the women dancers seem like either a team or facets of the same person.
After a sweetly defiant opening violin interlude by nine-year-old Sarang Chung West – Chung’s daughter and a rugby player on her school team – the tone of the work is consistently dark and intensely emotional; it remains on a single dynamic level throughout. Live music by Korean percussionist Vongku Pak on traditional instruments has an evenness that matches the movement. Lighting by Miriam Nilofa Crowe shifts sometimes abruptly to alter the stage space from mellow washes to shadowy streaks to diagonal pathways. It’s effective if not very refined.
We can see Chung’s grasp of compositional craft; a trio counterpoints a quartet, dancers use the full range of the limited space, they flow between levels, entrances and exits flow without seeming arbitrary. In short, Chung adheres to elements of “good composition.” In a couple of passages, the lack of an extra male means that, with obvious difficulty, a woman must act as a lifting partner for another. Anxiety and a sense of impending doom pervade the piece without the emotional contrast to provide context.
The dancers execute the movement efficiently, but because of Chung’s vaguely articulated emotional intentions for her characters, it’s difficult for the performers to rise to individual distinction or achieve clarity, although at least one does: Frenchman Benjamin Gaspard displays electric physicality and piercing focus; his kinetic vibrancy so excels that he captures our visual attention, whenever he is onstage.
After intermission, a trio, “Inevitable Convergences: The Last Story,” finds Gaspard narrating (in French) and dancing in a kind of “No Exit” situation with Alissa Wall and Ishiguro on, in, and around three of those ubiquitous folding chairs, they used in “Arirang.” Soaring, orchestral music by Stephen Warbeck swallows the dance.
“No One Knows But You” is Chung’s contemporary solo paints a portrait of a woman, confronting – or seeking – her own truth in a mirror that stands in an upstage corner of the stage. She wears a magenta shift and uses high heels as her prop – both or one or none. It is a counterpart to “Love and Memories,” where the traditional garb of delicate pastel chiffon and an umbrella hat depicts a fragile, stylized woman without her own agency. Chung’s committed performance in both solos makes them convincing.
The obligatory “upbeat” finale, The City from the Sky: Coming Together,” uses one of Danny Elfman’s pounding, familiar movie theme songs alongside equally catchy music by Hwang Sang Jun and Kodo drumming. Urbanites in black suits and white shirts dart laterally across the stage, throwing in occasional somersaults and attention-pulling tricks. At ninety minutes, the show gives us more than our fill of mid-20th century modernism – competent but by now irrelevant.
Photos by Lexi Namer
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
6th of October 2012
KEITH HENNESSY/CIRCO ZERO
Performer/philosopher Keith Hennessy likes to flaunt rules. During his aptly titled “Turbulence (a dance about the economy),” the San Francisco-based artist declares in one of his impassioned declarations that his performers are “private contractors,” which freaks out the administration at New York Live Arts where they’re playing (October 4-6), because they’re supposed to be covered by workmen’s compensation and have proper deductions taken, etc.
Hennessy breaks down for us the budget of this work, for which he’s received more funding than for any other in his career. Most of the comparatively lavish funding, of course, went to airfares and hotel rooms, although the performers are getting paid a moderate fee. And he takes pains to point out that, no, the foreign performers are not working illegally in the U.S.; instead, they’re part of this “research project” that is “Turbulence.” Oh, and by the way, does NYLA have special insurance for the trapeze that hangs onstage from the grid and supports as many as three or four performers at a time during the show?
The décor comprises flattened cardboard boxes taped to the white floor and the rear wall into a “carpet” and “mural” of sorts. Hennessy and his fearless performers produce skillfully modulated chaos, determined by an improvisational structure that includes a certain number of events that must happen, though when and where are not determined.
The cast is in action as the audience enters the theater. Lanky Irishman Ruairi (Rory) leads various audience members to onstage seats, where they can watch the action up close and personal. He offers to share with us the whiskey he and others are tippling. We simply submerge in the multi-ring circus of exotic episodes, sampling bits like a buffet and marveling at the range of the performers’ imaginations. The start and finish of the performance are purposely vague, and the audience is encouraged to hang out with the performers – naked and clad – afterwards.
Jessem Hindi produces an ungodly racket with his computer and electronic toys, plopped on the floor amid a tangle of cables. (I’m glad I accepted the earplugs offered.) Seated at a table at the side, lighting designer Shelby Sonnenberg plays with the lights: a warm wash of light turns dark and shadowy; house lights go on and off willy-nilly; rolling instruments pick out individual actions to highlight.
Through the apparent chaos, charismatic Hennessy keeps referring us back to the notion of economic inequity. He channels his rage at the unfairness of the economic system into this intense theater experience, which – save its prescribed landmarks – is never the same twice. Between his own vigorous improvisation stints, he sits and chats with the audience before rejoining the fray. All his collaborators exude personality and presence, but you never miss Hennessy. Even his most inconsequential move captures attention.
Groups tussle in twos, threes, and more, climbing on and lifting, and carrying each other in good-natured bouts that are simultaneously combative, sensuous, and loving. Guest artist Ishmael Houston-Jones makes love to Hana Erdman’s feet, kissing, stroking, and rubbing them on his face. A swath of gold, sequined fabric sweeps through the action, perhaps symbolizing the filthy lucre of capitalism.
One of the required landmarks is a pyramid of kneeling women from the audience, whose heads are wrapped in triangles of the shimmering gold fabric. Another, presumably, is Houston-Jones’s stripping naked and having the cast swaddle him in pink chiffon and cover him with the golden “shroud” and Hana Erdman’s black platform high heels.
Later, the cast hefts Houston-Jones to their shoulders and struggles up the stairs, bearing him aloft in a ritual funeral – the golden calf, stripped naked and borne to its just reward.
Very pregnant, Canadian guest artist Dana Michel capers around, her belly seeming to grow with each new entrance. Portly Empress Jupiter, as flamboyant as his name, wears a series of lacey black sheaths over loud patterned clam digger pants and comments to the audience about the onstage happenings. Upstage, Jesse Hewit turns cartwheels and somersaults. Gabriel Todd disco dances down front in his skivvies in a remarkable show of stamina, as other cast and audience members join and leave him, endlessly doing his side-to-side “pony” step.
You watch whatever episodes of the non-stop action you like, and there’s plenty to take in. People shed clothing or don garments that others have discarded. Periodically, Hennessy clears the clothes off the floor, as if grooming his nest. And he shows some aerial skills on the trapeze, tangling upside down and every other which way with Julie Phelps and Emily Leap. Downtown diva Faye Driscoll, who happens to be in the audience, joins in some trapeze pulling and pony-ing in the Occupy spirit.
Hennessy’s iconoclastic work is metaphoric on myriad levels. Commentary from him and his cast refer us back to his theme of economic inequity, so the matrix of random action really lives up to the dance’s parenthetical subtitle. It “unearths the power in refusing the ve
3rd of October 2012
DD DORVILLIER / HUMAN FUTURE DANCE CORPS
Music has traditionally provided the sea upon which to set dance steps afloat – according to, I think, George Balanchine or someone equally noteworthy. In her new “Danza Permanente,” performed at the Kitchen, September 26-30, DD Dorvillier appropriates none other than Ludwig von Beethoven’s String Quartet #15 in A Minor, Op. 132, “Heiliger Dankgesang” (Song of Holy Praise), as the ocean, on which to set sail. But when the music is that auspicious, and you can’t even hear it during the dance, you can’t help feeling that you’re being swindled somehow.
l-r: Naiara Mendioroz, Walter Dundervill, Nuno Bizarro, Fabian Barba
The dance painstakingly translates the rhythm and structure of the score, note for note, into movement. For the duration of the first movement, Assai sostentuto, the conceit is fascinating. The game of tracing the musical lines becomes a kind of game; we note the instrumental interplay, assiduously embodied by Naiara Mendioroz and Fabian Barba as the voices of the violins, Nuno Bizarro as that of the viola, and Walter Dundervill, the violincello.
Occasionally, one of the dancers counts off a vocal “one, two.” The dancing largely comprises prancing footwork below with torso tilts above with shaped arms that stretch overhead or tilt the trunk from side to side like pump handles. It’s intriguing for its short 15-minute duration.
But when we reach the second movement, Allegro ma non tanto, we’ve got the conceit, and it seems time for more than literal translation. The rhythm continues to rule, but since the accompaniment we actually hear is an arrhythmic, atmospheric soundscape by electronic harpist Zeena Parkins, there is room for – and we begin to expect – some further elaboration on the textural quality of the dancing, on the expressive intention of the music, its presumptive emotional connotations.
l-r: Dundervill, Barba, Bizarro, Mendioroz
As the earnest dancers begin to perspire, we note how sweat patterns darken the dress shirts and runners’ shorts costumer Michelle Arnet has fitted them with. The woman, Mendioroz, wears a muted tangerine color, her partner violin, tall, youthful looking, Ecuadorian Barba has a magenta shade. The viola, elegant, ramrod-erect Bizarro from Portugal, is in bright goldenrod, and powerfully intense Dundervill, the cello, is in a copen blue.
The dancers rarely touch each other – save for one swooping lift of Mendioroz by her three partners. And they look at each other only when their eyes accidentally meet – except for one brisk passage where Bizarro repeatedly swings his arms overhead with a flourish, each time focusing on a different person. Most notably, Dundervill invests every phrase with an intensity of focus and commitment that breathes vibrancy into it; whether or not the choreographer has told him her version of what his intention should be, his vivid presence tells its own compelling story.
To her credit, Dorvillier endeavors to pursue provocative intellectual propositions in creating her dances, and to judge by the warm reception of her audience, her rendering of this concept captured their interest. But Dorvillier’s diligent exercise in musical mimickry looks like the first draft of a multi-layered treatment of the concept that craves further exploration. It’s the scaffolding, on which to build a fully formed being that hasn’t yet found its poeticism.
photos by Paula Court
(c) Gus Solomons jr, 2012
14th of July 2012
SCOTT LYONS AND COMPANY
“The Private Life of Chickens” grew out of its creator Scott Lyons’s decision to give up his vegan diet. Rumor has it the project was also, in whole or part, his Master’s thesis in dance. If this is in fact the case, don’t even get me started on diminishing qualifications for a terminal degree in dance! Lyons’s curiosity about barnyard fowl led to appreciable research and thence this movement theater piece, which alighted upon the stage at Dance New Amsterdam, July 6-7.
Scott Lyons as Gretta
Basing his piece loosely on the traditional tale of Chicken Little, Lyons and three appealing women performers strut, cluck, and cackle on stage, while an earnest, British news reader (Bradford Scobie) narrates from a video screen. When Scobie is not eyeing the onstage silliness with a bemused smirk, he taunts the chickens from the screen with a flashlight and pelts the barnyard with rubbery penises from a fast food container. I guess they don’t make rubber chicken nuggets.
Lyons, whose background is in theater as well as dance, performs with the intensity of a coltish young actor, combined with the ungainliness of an eager non-dancer, and his lack of inhibition knows no limit. What he has apparently failed to research sufficiently is how to sustain narrative focus and humor, i.e., when enough of a joke – visual or otherwise – is enough.
l-r: Anne Bloom, Amii LeGendre, and Lindsay Gilmour
Dressed by Nicole Asselin like whimsically hilarious chickens – hoodies with red crests, white-rimmed, Hollywood starlet sunglasses, plastic raincoats, and bloomers made of upside down T-shirts – Lyons’s cohorts are his greatest assets. Understated Amii LeGendre is a geyser of wry sarcasm; wide-eyed Anne Bloom is comically clueless; and Lindsay Gilmour with her dancerly legs poses and clucks, in Hurculean efforts at attempting to lay an egg.
A mock military/industrial debate generates a few deserved guffaws, when the four hens peck at each other’s policies between doing iterations of a generic dance phrase. And you can’t help chuckling at the ridiculousness of four grownups dressed up like advertising mascots for a fast-food joint.
l-r: Gilmour, LeGendre, Bloom, and Lyons
Lyons does build some genuine dramatic tension with the machinations of the barnyard denizens to ward off the impending doom of a falling sky. But his Julia Child imitation outwears its welcome during the first of its several subsequent reprises. When the obsession with the sky falling switches to that of laying an egg for the gravy that Gretta (Lyons) intends to slather on some store-bought roasters, the piece loses rigor. It devolves into “schtick,” like a fraternity party skit, with situation and characters no longer evoking the humor.
l-r: Bloom, LeGendre, and Gilmour
Jay Ryan’s lively lighting is a big plus, and Benjamin Cerf coordinates his sound and video design seamlessly with the live action; a larger TV screen would have made it even more effective. And let’s not neglect rigging designer Scott Parks’s downpour of wafting feathers to eulogize the demise of Mary Beth (Bloom), whom Henretta (LeGendre) – for whatever reason – suffocates with a downy pillow. Lyons’s character Gretta finally manages to produce a puny little egg from the neck of his inverted-T-shirt groin, which in his enthusiasm, he accidentally smashes.
photos courtesy of Scott Lyons and Company
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
18th of June 2012
THE AUSTRALIAN BALLET
Celebrating its 50th Anniversary and making its first trip to the U.S.A. in more than a decade, the Australian Ballet brought four U.S. premieres to the David Koch Theater at Lincoln Center (June 12-17). As if to prove they go another way, the Aussies’ repertory included versions of classics, choreographed by contemporary dance makers – “Giselle” by Maina Gielgud, “Don Quixote” by Rudolf Nureyev, and Graeme Murphy’s “Swan Lake.”
The full company roster includes over sixty dancers, most of whom Artistic Director David McAllister brought for this comprehensive season. Along with members of the fourteen-dancer Bangarra Dance Theatre, directed by of the Stephen Page, they provide an impressive array of talent. The mixed bill program on June 12 ranged from classic to contemporary to indigenous, for a stunning display of the dancers’ versatility.
The opening act, named “Luminous,” capsulated with film clips the history of the down-under company to give the audience come context. The movie – compiled by The Apiary with music by Robert John and voice-over artist Robert Grubb – played like a TV show with “commercial breaks” consisting of five dance excerpts, calculated to display the wide stylistic range of the company.
The Act II pas de deux from Gielgud’s version of “Giselle,” which features Rachel Rawlins and Ty King-Wall, is a standout. Lanky, fresh-faced King-Wall proves an able partner for Rawlins, whose technical and expressive power makes her Giselle arguably the most magically ethereal we’ve seen.
Diminutive pair, Reiko Hombo and Chenwu Guo, exhibits uncanny control in Nureyev’s re-imagining of Petipa’s “Don Quixote.” Musical director Nicolette Fraillon leads the New York City Ballet Orchestra in a slower than usual tempo of the familiar Leon Minkus music, exaggerating the dancers’ absolute command of the ballet’s difficult balances, lifts, and leaps. Hondo’s obligatory fouette turns become doubles, and Guo’s Martial arts-inflected jumps stretch the classical form and ignite the crowd.
A pas de deux from “Molto Vivace” by Stephen Baynes, set to music by Handel, represents a contemporary love duet. Adam Bull wafts Amber Scott weightlessly, and these two principal artists continue to affirm the company’s technical command and artistic prowess.
The act closes with the pas de deux and ninth movement from Stanton Welch’s “Divergence,” his setting of Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2.” Costumes by Vanessa Leyonhjelm’s put the men in back and belly-baring unitards with lacing across the abs and the women in horned bras and removable tutus that look like broad Elizabethan ruffs.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Artists of the Australian Ballet in Welch’s Divergence
The choreography is self-consciously “modernist,” with symmetrical ranks of dancers twitching their knees and making angular arm gestures that somewhat distract from the soloists’ efforts in the center of this frenetic frame. Eventually, the women discard their tutus, and all sixteen dancers line up, front to back, in front of a fiery red-lit cyclorama and do cascading port de bras. It’s a deft assemblage of effects, geared to pure visual impact.
British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s own company, based at the Sadlers Wells Ballet is aptly named Random Dance. How interesting it is to watch Australia’s lithe dancers deftly negotiate the arbitrary convolutions and contortions of his “Dyad 1929,” which he presumptuously dedicates to Merce Cunningham! Its naïve, frontal use of space is the antithesis of Cunningham’s sophisticated spatial three-dimensionality.
photo by Lisa Tomasetti. Kevin Jackson and Lisa Jones in McGregor’s Dyad 1929.
Set to Steve Reich’s relentlessly persistent Double Sextet, McGregor’s ballet is meant somehow to reference the discovery of Antarctica (as we glean from the program note.) White backdrop and floor, sparsely dotted with rows of black dots, and a rising and descending horizon-line of yellow fluorescent lights (stage concept by McGregor and light designer Lucy Carter) and the brief white, black, and beige costumes by Moritz Junge set the gelid environment. Maybe the dancers’ perpetual motion, done at maximum physical tension throughout, is a warming tactic.
A unique attraction of the repertory is the collaboration with Bangarra Dance Theatre, in which Aboriginal and classical dancers blend seamlessly. Stephen Page’s “Warumuk – in the dark night,” with a lush instrumental score by David Page is based on Yoingu lore. The ballet explores astronomical imagery – the Milky Way, shooting stars, the celestial Seven Sisters, tides of the moon, and the mystery of a lunar eclipse.
photo by Jeff Busby. Artists of AustralianBallet and Bangarra Dance Theatre in Warumukv-in the dark night.
Sets by Jacob Nash and shadowy lighting by Padraig O Suillieabhain complete the imagery, setting the dancing in evocative, primitive locales, where athletic, floor-bound, animal-like movement becomes a metaphor for astronomical themes. In seven sections, Page’s expert massing of bodies and clear, simple motion create pungent images of nature.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
9th of March 2012
STEPHEN PETRONIO COMPANY
If you want to see a lot of Stephen Petroniop’s distinctive, slash-and-whip style, head to the Joyce Theater this weekend for his latest New York season (March 6-11) for a big gulp.
The drawing card this season is a guest performance by Wendy Whelan. In a three-minute solo “Ethersketch I,” from Petronio’s dark 2003 “Underland,” Whelan – whose day job is being a Bessie-Award-winning star of New York City Ballet – nimbly wends her way through Petronio’s complex extensions, balances and unlikely twists. Ubiquitous Whelan seems comfortable in this alien style, finding the dynamic flashes while maintaining riveting composure. She sparkles in a golden top and short shorts by Karen Erickson in the tantalizing, too-brief cameo.
“City of Twist” (2002) with an instrumental score by Laurie Anderson is typical Petronio – a series of fraught solos, woven together with comings and goings in smaller groupings by the cast of seven, wearing skimpy, high-fashion, skin-baring togs by Tara Subkoff/ Imitation of Christ. The dancers seem self-involved, detached from each other, passing with glancing contact on their individual trajectories.
Petronio’s dancers are always wonderful to look at, flexing and stretching honed limbs in elaborate spirals around compact torsos. Veteran Petronio muses Gino Grenek and Amanda Wells set the tone with Davalois Fearon, Barrington Hinds, Julian De Leon, and newer-comers (to me) Jaqlin Medlock, Nicholas Sciscione, Natalie Mackessy, Joshua Tuason, Emily Stone, Joshua Green reinforcing it with authority.
Photo: Julie Lemberger. Petronio Company in The Architecture of Loss
The world premiere “The Architecture of Loss” reveals a more compassionate side than we’re used to from Petronio, who revels in slash-and-whip movement. A spare, melancholy, original score by Icelandic composer Valgeir Sigurosson, featuring electronics, bass, aquaphone, banjo and vocals, with violist Nadia Sirota, and pianist Nico Muhly, provides an appropriately austere cushion for the emotionally rooted, restrained dancing.
Dressed in Gudrun & Gudrun’s chocolate and off-white knitted tunics, washed by resident lighting designer Ken Tabachnick in warmth, and backed by a triptych projection by Ravi Rajan of cloud-like paintings by Rannva Kunoy, austere tableaus, melt and reform; people come an go, mutually consoling. Two duets form the heart of the work. In one, lanky Tuason patiently tames De Leon’s puppy-like restiveness. The other features Wells, repeatedly melting into, stretching from, and climbing onto powerful, gentle Green, who handles her firmly, gently, like a loving protector.
Photo: Julie Lemberger. Joshua Green, Amanda Wells in The Architecture of Loss
Petronio opens the program in a zebra-striped John Bartlett suit, thanking to the Joyce, his performing alma mater for 20 years, and paying homage to whom he calls the two “pillars” of his artistic influence, claiming facetiously to be their “bastard child” – Trisha Brown and Steve Paxton, both of them founding members of the Judson Dance Group. Petronio was the first male dancer in Brown’s then all-woman troupe, and Paxton is credited with “inventing” contact improvisation. Quite a lineage!
Photo by Julie Lemberger: Petronio and Sciscione in Intravenous Lecture
Then he performs an un-notated, improvisational piece, given to him by Paxton, “Intravenous Lecture” (1970/2012), which with Petronio’s recounting its genesis as a protest against Paxton’s being forbidden to show nudity in a dance for NYU. While Petronio talks, he gets injected with saline IV by a registered nurse. Then, he undertakes gay equality rant in the form of an overly footnoted verbal and physical anecdote, about getting busted in London in the ‘70s – where he and “noted choreographer” X were having a substance-fueled love affair – for wearing a provocative T-shirt (which just happened to be a $400 Vivian Westwood design) in public.
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
3rd of March 2012
CRYSTAL PITE/KIDD PIVOT
Crystal Pite, whose company, Kidd Pivot, operates from Vancouver and Berlin, is already an international name in dance, but her troupe just made its New York debut February 23-24 – two nights only, alas – at BAC. Pite’s evening, titled The You Show, consists of four duets – perhaps one too many – the last of which includes her full nine dancer company.
Fine dance makers are not so rare, but the true choreographic gene is given to few, and Pite seems so blessed. With her dancers, she creates intense movement that paints highly kinetic pictures, which are at once specific and abstract. The details of the movement are less important than the emotions it taps. The work is rife with “wow” moments, when the movement embodies the emotion with such consonance you can’t imagine another choice.
“A Picture of You Falling” (2008) begins with a disembodied voice speaking, as a rolling spotlight traverses the stage. In the ensuing solo for the woman (Anne Plamondon), she sometimes illustrates the words with her gestures but mostly physical impulses jolt her body through space, lunging, lurching, spinning, falling. Her partner (Peter Chu) lurks in the shadows like a ghost. Robert Sondergaard’s active lighting design chases the dancers with spotlights or goes black or flashes bolts of lightning, adding to the dramatic tension.
In Chu’s solo, it is hard to tell whether his convulsive, percussive, twitching motion is causing or caused by Owen Belton’s sound score of clicking locks, meshing gears, footsteps, and slams. When the partners get together, they can’t seem to find a comfortable connection with each other – falling in or out of love, or into oblivion.
“The Other You” demonstrates most clearly Pite’s brilliance at translating intellectual concept into vivid movement. Eric Beauchesne represents an individual being manipulated by conscious and unconscious motivations. After manipulating his own body like a puppeteer with a remote control, he confronts his own image (Jiri Pokorny) in an imaginary mirror. The men, who look remarkably alike in black coats and white shirts by costumer Linda Chow, wrestle to prevail, one over the other. Finally, Beauchesne wins the battle, banishes his adversary with a push toward Pokorny’s foot that energizes the air between them and accomplishes its goal without any physical contact.
In “Das Glashaus,” Yannick Matthon and Cindy Salgado are survivors of some roiling disaster – an earthquake, hurricane, sunami. Bursts of strobe light and sounds of shattering glass frame their desperate attempts at escape from whatever the horror is surrounding them. Sometimes it’s hard to see them in the shadowy darkness, but their angst is clearly overwhelming.
l-r: Spivey, Garcia in A Picture of You Flying
And the final work, “A Picture of You Flying,” contains some transcendent, real-life version of Computer Generated Imagery, where three women (Ariel Freedman, Plamondon, and Salgado) become the exoskeleton of Jermaine Maurice Spivey – who plays a wannabe superhero – and four men (Beauchesne, Chu, Matthon, and Pokorny) do the same for Sandra Marin Garcia, his distaff antagonist. Funny as Spivey’s portrayal is, his opening monolog needs trimming. And you just can’t top the battle of “transformers” for inventiveness and wit, so putting the lovers through their unrequited romance after the battle is redundant, not to mention bizarrely anti-climactic. Still, as Cedar Lake Company has already discovered, Pite is a choreographer well worth watching.
Photo by Julieta Cervantes
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
20th of February 2012
DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM 2
The Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble (a.k.a., DTH2) made its New York debut at the Joyce Theater (February 7, 9, and 10), performing an eclectic program that ranged from neoclassical to contemporary. The school has continued during the “hiatus” of the main company, offering high quality ballet training to a diverse range of students. And DTH alumnus Keith Saunders directs the Ensemble, which is a proud representation of the training at the school.
DTH, now under the direction of Virginia Johnson – protégé and muse of founder Arthur Mitchell, the company is getting its financial (and artistic) affairs in order and gearing up to return. Right after intermission, in fact, “En Avant,” a documentary by Gabrielle Lamb about the school and company served as tribute and preview of DTH’s imminent reawakening.
The opening ballet, “Six Piano Pieces (Harlem Style)” (2011) by David Fernandez, serves to introduce half of the company’s sixteen dancers, clad in Vernon Ross’s mix-and-match “business casual” clothing. It’s a formulaic trifle for four couples, set to an eponymous piano score by Moritz Moszkowski, energetically played, live, by Melody Fader. Despite its uninspired choreography, it does show off the dancers’ clear, unmannered style. DaVon Doane’s springy jumps with soundless landings, Flavia Garcia’s rock-solid turns and steady balance, and Ingrid Silva’s sparkling personality stand out.
In Christopher Huggins’s “In the Mirror of her Mind,” Alexandra Jacob Wilson as the protagonist shows disarming dramatic flair and breathtaking physical fearlessness. Three male foils (Frederick Davis, Jehbreal Jackson, and David Kim), perhaps figures in her dream, toss her around like a rag doll in Huggins’s inventive roughhousing lifts. Nonetheless, her courageous serenity makes us admire and celebrate her. Natasha Guruleva’s earth-toned costumes give each dancer individual character and enhance the tone of grounded elegance.
Balanchine’s 1955 “Glinka Pas de Trois” represented the company’s nod to the classic style. The dance is seldom performed, which is a shame, because its lightning fast allegro variations with intricate direction changes constantly surprise. Ashley Murphy, Stephanie Williams, and Samuel Wilson dance it with authority and brio in sparkling crimson tutus by Natasha Guruleva; only the man’s black tights and top oddly lacks the same éclat, but Wilson’s steady partnering and unforced virtuosity are praiseworthy.
Donald Byrd always demands that his dancers go balls-to-the-wall in their dynamic attack. Although his new “Contested Space” may be at least a third too long, it is a stunner. More than a mere battle of the sexes, the ballet is a complex contest between genders and also individuals, striving for room to breathe. The physical aggressiveness that can so easily reads as hostility, when treated by other contemporary ballet sensibilities, becomes more like a heated intellectual debate made grippingly physical in the resilient bodies of this affable young cast.
Byrd’s unique, refreshingly un-generic movement style often derives from having dancers solve physical tasks, which the choreographer then pushes to the limit of kinetic commitment. Thus, Byrd makes the DTH2 dancers look like seasoned pros, and the dancers perform with clear, consistent focus but without succumbing to the viciousness that Amon Tobin’s relentlessly abrasive score inflicts on it.
At moments in the other pieces, the dancers’ transitions and eloquence of line are not always consistent, but Byrd makes them move with total commitment and luscious recklessness. They hold back nothing. This is the kind of work that DTH needs to be doing more of. Peter D. Leonard’s lighting throughout is simple and effective. If this is a taste of what’s to come from DTH, we can’t wait to see more.
(Unfortunately, the company was not able to supply photos of small enough resolution to reproduce)
© Gus Solomons jr, 2012
17th of December 2011
STREB ACTION VIRTUALLY KISSES THE ARMORY CEILING
After seeing one of Elizabeth Streb’s extreme action performances, people still ask, “But is it dance?” The second in a series of major dance performances at the Park Avenue Armory (December 14-22), “Kiss the Sky,” again poses the question. Well, in my book, dance is motion, structured. If we must, let’s grant that it’s human motion – which, for some, it need not be. Anyway, just because Streb has reinvented the way bodies can move – she uses them as missiles – doesn’t make her work “not dance.”
The vast drill hall is filled with vertical and horizontal trusses with their stabilizing cables anchored to massive, 6-foot cubes of concrete. Jumbo projection screens above banks of bleachers, three on either side, flash a rotating “STREB” like Times Square billboards and later real-time and prerecorded details of the action they’re performing, along with Streb’s notations of the sections in her notebook. On big mats that cover the ground, dancers in red, superhero body tights practice headstands and flop over on the floor like fish out of water.
The show is organized into eleven scenes. DJ/MC Zaire Baptiste prowls the floor in a suit, studded with tiny light bulbs – I want that suit! As he announces each of the dancers’ names, they zoom down a zip line from towers at opposite ends of the space, sisty feet up, and slams, face first, into a thick tumbling mat that’s hanging about ten feet off the ground at the opposite end.
Then for the next hour, these intrepid athletes put them through a series of punishing physical actions that seem guaranteed to induce vertigo, concussion, and organ damage. In “Swing,” they do just that, hanging from two suspended hula-hoops, two, three, and four at a time, bouncing off a mini-trampoline to catch the hoop in mid-swing, then dropping to the mat in a belly-flop.
In “Popaction,” they bounce around in a unison phrase on the floor; they flip their lying bodies over repeatedly in horizontal pirouettes, shoot their feet through their hands going from prone to supine, toppling over forwards and backwards without bending like dominoes. “Instant Flight” has teams of four, pull cables to yank a pair of harnessed dancers into the air by the smalls of their backs or their bellies.
“Ascension” has nine of the dancers endlessly climbing a nineteen-foot ladder that their weight causes to rotate constantly like a slow-motion propeller, sending them upside down as soon as they’ve reached the top and counterbalancing each other on a vertical, spinning ladder. Choose your metaphor.
In “Human Fountain,” thirteen daredevils (the nine, so-called “action engineers” of the company plus four additional performers) sail through the air from three levels of platforms, stacked nearly three stories high, in swan dives, half rolls, and front flips; they crash land on the mats below. Between bouts of diving, they stand still or pace easily on the platforms to “cool down.” The pauses are not only a welcome respite for the audience from the vehemence, but probably also a necessary break for the dancers’ organs to recover from the bashing they’re subjecting themselves to.
In “Wave,” they tumble, splash, and skid on their bellies across a shallow pool, smack in the center of the space. And “Kiss the Water” is bungee diving action, where two guys repeatedly drop downward towards the water and rebound to the scaffolding above, before their cohorts slosh into the pool and shoot them horizontally and diagonally in the direction of the audience, like Superman in flight.
Call Streb Action dance or what you will, it provokes re-examination of your precepts about dancing – and more. It’s as glitzy as a circus with all the accoutrements – music and sound design by David Van Tieghem with Brandon Wolcott, roving spotlights (lighting design by Robert Wierzel), events staged double to play to both sides of the stadium seats at once, sleek costumes (by Andrea Lauer), and jumbo TV screens to capture what you can’t or don’t see.
It is not meant to look slick and graceful, no Cirque du Soleil. Seeing and vicariously experiencing the massive effort is part of the point. But the emotional tension that all the energy, power, and courage of the performers creates is pretty profound. See for yourself till December 22.
Photos by Stephanie Berger
© Gus Solomons jr, 2011
13th of December 2011
KYLE ABRAHAM – “LIVE!: THE REALEST MC”
Currently, there seems to be an upsurge in gender identity as choreographic subject matter. Tere O’Connor’s “Cover Boy” was conceived around issues of closeted gayness. Also performing the same weekend (December 8-10), Kyle Abraham’s “Live!: The Realest MC” is inspired by the story of Pinocchio, who wanted to be a “real boy” and an earlier solo “Inventing Pooky Jenkins.”
Abraham’s work is personal and autobiographical but not self-indulgent. Recent suicides by involuntarily “outed” young men, like Tyler Clementi in New Jersey last year, reminded Abraham of an unhappy adolescence, when he feared that because his voice didn’t sound like the other male students around him, he would be “found out.”
“I prayed that I could go unnoticed,” he states.
Presented at the Kitchen in West Chelsea, “Realest MC” alternates between highly crafted, hip-hop-inflected passages for the troupe’s two men and four women in various groupings and Abraham solo. The half a dozen cast members understand Abraham’s style and expressive intentions to a tee. They embody the quick-twitch hip-hop and ballet/postmodern scaffolding, on which the choreographer hangs his vision.
The rear curtain of the stage is made up of vertical strips, like king-sized vertical window blinds. A film by Brooklyn-based Carrie Schneider intermittently counterpoints the live dancing – boys, running through ghetto streets, some, edited into repeating loops. The projection occupies a horizontal rectangle at the lower right of the rear wall, so it doesn’t overwhelm the live performers.
Included in the film is a hilarious segment that shows an earnest but clueless white woman teaching a hip-hop class and trying to pass herself off as authentic. Abraham, too, takes an onstage lesson from a disembodied voice on how to do a hip roll.
Besides Abraham, the clearest physical reflection of his stylistic vision is a show-stealing solo by Chalvar Monteiro. He whips through intricately technical combinations – his pirouettes stop in a balance, then drop into a waacker’s squatting walk with voguing arms, and a sassy, booty-swinging stroll. Switching seamlessly and dazzlingly between vernacular extremes is of the essence of Abraham’s sensibility.
Monteiro also exhibits his girlie persona in a funny duo with hyper-macho Maleek Malaki Washington, as they illustrate recorded instructions being “real” hip-hop. Interpreting the same instruction Monteiro shifts into one hip with his arms framing his waist, while Washington plants his feet and folds his arms defiantly across his chest.
Dan Scully’s exciting lighting design amplifies the quick movement and extreme moods of the choreography, shaping the environment around the dancers with such immediate responsiveness that you get a sense of the quick-cut editing of a music video. Scully’s light keeps the stage is as brilliantly alive as the dancing.
In one solo, Abraham ambles to a microphone and in a deep, “butch” voice accosts us with an aggressive “Yo! Howy’all doin’?” greeting. Gradually, his gravelly, macho inflection dissolves into a sobbing little boy, crying over and over, “they held me down,” describing the bullying he suffered as a boy. Then, as he backs away from the mike, his voice drops back to the lower range, and it begins to sound like, “They help’d me now!”
Photos by Paula Court
© Gus Solomons jr, 2011