The wonderful Mr. Chen welcomes us back to his dance center for the second installment of their semi-annual dance series newsteps, featuring new choreographers’ budding works. While risk-taking innovation is at the heart of the series, the use of audio and non-dance visuals always runs the chance of taking over the show, and in some instances it does. But when the newsteps dancers dance, and do not rely on externals to create an experience, it is then they really shine.
A chair with its back tied with rope and appended to Tomikawa in Linkage does not pose a problem; it exemplars supplementary material auxiliary to the whole. Inspired by the distance of the relationship between the choreographer and her family, Tomikawa starts out sitting in a chair, as loud claps of thunder echo her internal struggle. Leaving the chair, Tomikawa, connected to the rope, summons a palpable energy on stage, exuding a current of juices of which the youthful dancer may have only an inchoate understanding. Her technical prowess and exceptional flexibility make it a privilege to watch her grow through struggle before us.
Transitioning from ecstasy-inducing simplicity, we venture into Kim’s affected and complicated multi-media work combining dance, martial arts, theatrical text and video. Based on the poetry of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s work of the same title, DICTEE is backdropped by an overhead projector that often shows a woman writing in cursive with narration complimentary to the visual. Kim stomps and rambles incoherencies, matching the maniacal scribblings of the overpowering screen behind her. Kim most likely attempts to bring the audience into a world of historic chaos; though she succeeds, such a synthesis of elements would have said more had they done less. The overpowering projector and narration overshadows Kim’s moves; except for a kick-up from her back to her feet, the choreography proves less than memorable. The screen behind her changes a few times, noting Joan of Arc and the Japanese War, but all allusions seem to muddle together. The dance artistry of DICTEE is simply lost by too much going on behind and around the dancer.
Similarly, the dancing in Ortega Tanus’ Inside the Blue is drowned out by overzealous accompaniment. The incessant ringing of a bell, something akin to a tuning fork, takes over, and the audience’s only reprieve of this jarring sound are other horrible reverberations one might hear from Freddy Kruger’s boiler room. Though the piece aims “to create a stimulation of the mind resulting in confusion and insanity,” the audience should be given a glimpse into this scary dark world, instead of being held hostage there. If only the sounds were more subtle and the performance depended less upon them, Patricia Dominguez’ movements could have alluded to confusion and insanity without worsening the audience’s headache from the audio-visual frenzy in the preceding work. Dominguez’ puts her hand over her mouth as if she is going to vomit, covers her head as if she has a headache and at the end, curls up on the floor, bringing knees to chest; this is all well and good, but the audience fails to empathize because we’re made to feel just as horrible—and not in a deep kind of way, but in a disturbing one, derived from brain-curdling sound effects from the loud speakers. Inside the Blue would indeed be more artful if it weren’t too often just noise.
Who’s in Charge by Cornfield Dance gives us dancing! Alluding to the emotional dynamics underlying interpersonal relations, this work starts with the attractive 40-something Ellen Cornfield stage-front in balletic attire. She’s reading a book, then announces “7, 8, 9” and two youthful dancers, Caitlin Scranton and Megan Krauszer, paint the stage with their talent. Scranton’s articulate movement and power complement the apt Krauszer, whose energetic sweetness stimulates the audience from the stage. Previously in step, the pair dissociate, playing out power dynamics as Cornfield steps aside; the pair strike a kinetic balance between grace and athleticism that make clear their passion and spot-on training.
The highlight of this newsteps series is Tony Bordonaro of Glitterati. In his work with Heather Jeane Favretto, To new chapters even when the bookends, the delectable duo dance to Simon and Garfunkel, raising and meeting our expectations each step of the way. Effortlessly beautiful on stage, the pair’s lithe bodies in muted shades of beige organically intermingle. The interconnectedness of love is fully illustrated, down to even the truism of one partner less invested in the relation (Favretto). It’s not that Favretto is less than amazing, as much as Bordonaro’s remarkable depth; he details the prickling feelings of love in which we desire dissociation from our bodies to become souls that are free. The fruits of love—attachment, union, feelings of forever and friendship—are exposed on stage; the audience is reminded of their inherent innocence, as love without fear materializes before our very eyes.
Innovation and risk are intrinsic to newsteps; all growth in life may be as well. But in dance as well as in life, risk and innovation should be a challenge to the core of human character. It is all too easy for the “bells and whistles” at our disposal to make our lives less true and more convoluted. This is not to say that non-dancer resources (sound effects, projectors, etc.) do not have a place in the art of dance; instead, such accompaniment should be used with an artful hand. As said, when the newsteps dancers dance, they shine and offer spectators insight into the mysterious, marvelous and often miraculous world of human experience. Such dazzling dance as an exploration of the internal landscape is indeed most complementary to the understated charm of Mr. Chen and his enchanting dance center.
Photos courtesy of: Matthew Wright and Daniella Halsema
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Joe Damiano
Performance: Newsteps 2 at The Chen Dance Center
Choreography: Akiko Tomikawa, Soomi Kim, Guillermo Ortega Tanus
Ellen Cornfield, Megan Krauszer, Caitlin Scranton Glitterati
Venue: The Chen Dance Center, New York City
Performance Date: Thursday, April 30-May 2, 2009