As Cherylyn Lavagnino, the chairperson of the NYU Dance Department, introduces the evening's program, she explains how much of an honor it is to have these dancers/choreographers back at the university to display their work. She explains to the audience that this is a celebration of accomplished alumni that the entire department is looking to make an annual event. I don't realize until the close of the program how much I, too, am going to hope for this to be an annual event celebrating seven choreographers, all of whom have a unique voice.
Brook Notary is an absolute star. Her work opens the first act, and it opens with a bang! Grid, a piece choreographed in 2008, uses four bungee-type ropes as dancing props. I say "dancing props" because the ropes dance as they partner with the company and, seemingly, have a life of their own when they are touched by the dancers. Each rope is tethered on both ends off stage right and off stage left in the wings.
The dancers not only travel from right to left in the paths that the ropes create, but also, jump over them like hurdles and press themselves against the ropes as if the rope is a slingshot. The tension is high from the moment the music begins with its digital pulsations and a distant broken record sound composed by John Elliott Oyzon. The dancers begin by simply walking with intention, through the "high tension" wires. Then, they start to tangle themselves in and out of the ropes as they dance. (The initial tangling makes me think of Chinese Jump rope, and how this piece must have been inspired by that!)
One of the male dancers effortlessly repeats circular attitude pitch turns as if gravity isn't affecting him one bit. As he does the pitch, he steps over the rope after pulling it down with his hand just enough so that he can step over it. When the corps of dancers comes out on stage to play with the ropes together, I can see the heads turning sharply to the right before pulling a rope over a head or under a knee. These head isolations are not only interesting visually to the choreography, but very functional. Without these quick looks to the side, the dancers would become tangled to death. The synchronicity is unbelievable! (This piece had to have taken hours of meticulous rehearsal.) As a girl pulls the rope under her chin and twice over her arms (all the while executing choreography with her hands and feet), she is also unravelling the girl next to her, who is about to run into a man's arms who has just hurdled over two ropes to catch her in time.
I do not breath until the end at which point four dancers continually run down stage from the most upstage point behind all four ropes bending the ropes toward the audience like wrestlers using the ropes for resistance and power as the lights fade out.
Johannes Wieland's Shift brings us into the unrestrained and slightly alive photo book of a male and female. I say "unrestrained" because when they move, there is only an ounce of tension in either of their bodies, the tension being their pointed feet. They both have fantastic feet that just barely stick out of their black slacks with matching long sleeved black shirts. Otherwise, all of the movement is breezy and relaxed as it visibly starts at a certain point in the body and travels all the way out through the head and the finger tips.
This piece is a photo book of times together and times apart. When there is a meaningful "together" moment, they freeze. When there is a meaningful apart moment (both lying on their backs at opposite ends of the stage), they freeze. When they are together, their bodies intertwine seamlessly as the unrestrained energy that they have been practicing within their own bodies shoots unrestricted from one body to the other and rebounds again and again. This is organic movement at its finest. Two dancers of different sexes and drastically different sizes move as if they share the same internal biology. Johannes Wieland is a master at puppeteering as he gets inside the dancers' bodies to pull the strings so that all of the effort and tension is inside resting with the master controller letting no one on the outside see any tension or strings being pulled.
Seán Curran outdoes himself in a solo that he not only has choreographed but also performs ingeniously. St. Petersburg Waltz was created to celebrate Meredith Monk's 40th anniversary and appropriately, is set to St. Petersburg Waltz from Volcano Songs composed by Meredith Monk. This masterpiece takes you on an emotional journey through a man's life starting at a point of naive, gleeful happiness and ending at point of repentance as the lights fade out on him desperately praying for forgiveness.
The lights come up on Seán clad in britches, a tight fitting vest with a pocket watch chain visible and a bowler hat tightly fitted to his head. The beard, his rosy cheeks, his slightly rotund figure and the aforementioned garb create the look of a jolly Russian business man at the turn of the 19th century. The piece begins as he step-touches from side to side in time with the two piano chords that are struck every measure of music. His arms are raised over his head as he claps on every step touch, all the while displaying glee and contentment on his face. He basks in happiness for a short time, during which time he simply claps his hands and twiddles his feet in quick petit allegro patterns (I adore this integration of classical ballet into such an off the wall contemporary piece).
But something tragic in his life happens that puts him through emotions ranging from anxiety and guilt to regret and bitterness. All of these emotions are clearly expressed and almost over-exaggerated in a clown-like way (Seán is very talented at pantomime) including the suicidal phase in which he actually pantomimes a noose being made as he tries to kill himself. He goes back and searches for simplicity again through the "step touch clap your hands over your head dance", but can no longer find pleasure in the things he once found so beautiful.
Seán Curran breaks the fourth wall with one hundred percent commitment as he acts like a clown or a magician in the way he presents his emotions to the audience. At one point, he stands all the way downstage center at the edge of the stage and covers his eyes with his hands as his mouth opens and closes as if he is a fish out of water. It is almost as if the audience is the person that is provoking all of these emotions, and it is the audience whom he asks for forgiveness at the end. A great artist sees something in a beautiful and unique way and then goes on to make it take shape for others to see and consequently, be affected by it. Seán Curran has seen and executed something unique and beautiful that would have made Meredith Monk proud.
Cherylyn Lavagnino's Facets adds a new flavor to this evening's program with a three movement ballet production to Legions, Fern and We Insist by composer Zoe Keating. The lights come up on four quivering female dancers facing upstage in b-plus. Their bodies undulate up and down as there pointe shoe clad feet continue to quiver yet stay attached firmly to the ground. This opening is beautiful and mysterious and seems to be laying the groundwork for a beautiful and mysterious piece, but the work becomes more and more about the technique that is being executed and less about conveying a story and/or any type of emotion.
That being said, the technique displayed is unbelievable. The first male soloist (anonymous to me because there are no solo credits in the program) flawlessly does double inside attitude turns into triple outside pirouettes (on the same leg mind you). At one point, after he has finished doing a third set of these without a hop, a member in the audience lets out a loud "whoop", which brings me back to my old competition days when the audience went crazy every time there was a trick knocked out such as five pirouettes into a couter slam. Another technical element that is fantastic is the partnering with Selina Chau. She does a développé hitch kick followed by her partner whipping her back in the direction from whence she came with her knees tucked under her as if she were a yo yo on a string.
There is no relationship between the dancers besides the physical contact that must happen during the partnering. Cherylyn Lavagnino's choreography is complexly interesting and the dancers are stunning technicians. Next time, I am hoping for a little more "oomph" from the dancers.
Sydney Skybetter presents Potemkin Piece, an interesting quartet of two males and two females dancing to Dvorak's String Quarter No 12 in F Major op 96. Sydney also performs in this piece and shows off her contact skills (I am guessing that many of these movements began as contact improvisation).
A male and female dance. A male and male dance. A female and female dance. They wear clothes that make them androgynous and one of the girls has a short, boyish haircut so, at first glance, it is hard to tell whether it is a male and female dancing or two males. All of the movements are soft and on the feminine side style wise, a style that is not adjusted for the boys. It is as if they are all of the same sex, and they dance with each other with no sexual tension whatsoever. This "lack of tension" is a style that permeates the entire piece. The "dive attitude step" is a staple here, and it is flawlessly executed as a hand shoots across the body and straight down to the floor as a parallel back attitude is sustained.
Sydney Skybetter's movements are so organic it is as if deep breaths rebounding up and down the dancers' bodies are the driving force for each movement. Skybetter's work is a long, satisfying deep breath.
It's All About Falling is choreographed and performed by Charlotte Boye-Christensen. Christensen is a master craftsman at creating a voyeuristic situation in her choreography. It is as if she is alone in her bedroom casually pacing the floors with a thought, and when she feels like it, she dances with forceful ease (an oxymoron, I know, but the whole piece it driven by this "forceful ease").
After casually taking two steps, sauté arabesques to the ground, rolls over and comes back up again. This has no real preparation and when it is finished, her stillness makes us think that it never happened. Her hair is unkempt, and her loose long sleeved white shirt with long brown pants makes her look as though she is in her pajamas in her bedroom.
Not only is she the anti-thesis of presentational by not acknowledging the audience or anything else external, but she also does not acknowledge herself in that she does not emotionally involve herself in any of her movements. Also, she involves herself as least physically as possible in her movements in the way that her muscles don't seem to be the driving force, but there is a chi that controls her every movement. The choice to be so disengaged coupled with the voyeurism attributed to being "alone in the bedroom with your thoughts" creates a fascinating work.
Number 6 choreographed by Kyle Abraham, in collaboration with the dancers, is a dance of the cats. These cats are not just any cats. Have you ever had a pet kitty, and all of a sudden, it starts meowing in a new voice and jumping on walls as if gravity does not exist? That's right folks, what we have here is a cat in heat-meow!
At first, the audience does not know that this piece is exploring a female feline world until one dancer enters the stage and begins to clean her "whiskers" with her "paws". Now, there are no whiskers, paws, tails, cat-ears or any other costume hints that would tell us that what we are dealing with here are cats. After the first "whisker cleaning" the kitty implications are exponential! They all begin cleaning whiskers, but in an increasingly ferocious and non-"we are just kitties lounging around cleaning our whiskers" type of way. They are letting out their pheromones by the gallons and marking their territories like mad cats!
This pheromonal impetus works like a charm (or catnip) in making the kitties double turn into jetés and show each other their athletic prowess. The real "a-ha" moment is when the choreography begins to intertwine splayed hands on crotches. The first instance is when one feline, as she faces upstage, bends over, puts her hand between her legs and ever so un-subtly tells us that she is in heat. Antics ensue. (A feline pounces on her competition, a feline dance-off takes place, and more whiskers are cleaned). Kyle Abraham displays his unique perspective on the driving forces of movement and integrating humor into a dance story. Well done.
As Cherylyn Lavagnino stated in her opening speech, lets make this alumni show an annual event! It is wonderful to see several different choreographers come back to their roots and showcase their talents, all whose voices have become resonant in different ways, yet holding the common thread of an education.
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Adrienne Jean Fisher
Performance: Past/Forward: A Tisch Dance Alumni Celebration
Venue: Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, New York City
Date: January 31, 2009
Click Here To Become a Member of iDANZ Today!
iDANZ - The Social Network Where Dancers Live!