What choreographer has the balls to bring all ‘his dancers’ to The Joyce Theater after working in NYC for 17 years? Nicholas Leichter! He presents company members, old and new, in a rare tribute to his own evolving artist legacy. After seeing his genius on the bodies of students at DTW’s Barnard Project, I was anxious to see his run here. It is clear that he has the unique ability to make dancers, seasoned or green, look amazing in his movement.
Leichter displays a rare blend of talents including an exceptional artistic rhythm that complements his strong sense of thematic timing. Additionally, his musical choices thrill me by flipping it and bringing House, R&B, disco-drag and Hip Hop to The Joyce.
His early movement vocabulary is a fusion of contemporary dance, contact improvisation, African, jazz and the more free loft styles of house dance. The premiere of Killa shows off Leichter's later dance style, a style that intersects retro and new. Throwing it back to a time in the 90's when costume changes and keeping up with generation next of the current 'Hip Hop potpourri' were the norm, he keeps the children working, sweating and absolutely killing it in scene after scene.
The night opens with Free The Angels (2001) featuring a more mature cast of dancers who know how to perform his signature style with truth and vitality. Strangely, his signature piece, billed as a reworking of the original, is presented with half the cast that's listed in the program. This last minute switch up coupled with no announcement leaves the audience confused. Perhaps Leichter believes the best fit is not to force some reunion routine carbon copy on seasoned dancers and students from his workshops. Instead, he frees this cast to do their thing first.
Free The Angels, is set to Stevie Wonder’s album, “Songs in the Key of Life”, which boasts repetitious and driving rhythms on top of heart wrenching lyrics. Leichter opens with a duet that is ‘housey’ and dripping with a soulful club quality. The dancers begin by reaching up into a down stage pool of light before partnering as they lift each other. It's hard to tell where the partnering stops and the contact improv begins.
What’s extraordinary about this work is the non-stop partnering, which becomes a constant layering over the work itself. Not only do the six dancers constantly run in and out of the work as they join in endless numbers of duets, trios, quartets and ensembles, but they also jump completely released into each others arms. Leichter’s style is so effortlessly smooth. Not for nothing, this piece could be likened to a Black Esplanade. The dancers execute this jazzy work with a soft and subtle confidence that only builds with time. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8vgIFi9hV2c
Killa opens with Monstah Black tied into a spider web and singing a housed up version of Michael Jackson’s “You Can’t Win” (The Wiz). (Michael’s pervasive influence is eternally with us.) The dancers start dressed in suits as square executives or finance geeks. Here, the students whom he has worked with for years are brought in from various college workshops, notably Sacramento and Wayne State. The dancers move with a raw power that is hungry and in-yo-face, contrasting starkly with the confidently grounded Free the Angels. At times, they seem to fly off stage with the energy and excitement that they bring to Leichter’s premiere. The movement style is all contemporary hip-hop steps, but Leitcher’s timing is tickier and has that slower b-boy/girl vibe that really lets you see each movement. Scene change after scene change brings us everything from many more looks with different costumes to different songs, each having an exclusive theme. Those kids kill Leitcher’s style and timing as they give each scene its own unique flavor.
I just love this backstage clip of the kids keeping it clean: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVXNO30nJmM
Monstah Black, featured throughout, appears in various modern drag ensembles. In one scene, he enters as if a warped Disney character with pan-like platform boots. These weightless wonders are killer on his snatched little frame,...and...umm...did I mention the fact that they are red and black striped knee-high STOCKINGED 4 inch platform CLOVEN boots? Yes! Work that originality Mr. Black! You go with your bad "balancing like a fawn while bourréeing across stage" self. Never still, his performance unnerves something deep inside your soul, making you say, “What the f@#* is he doing, and why is it so hot?!” Leichter capitalizes on Black's talent for creating colorful scenes. Within
Killa, Black threads together a seamless whole of live song, dance and tricked out performances.
Seeing both halves to the whole is quite a treat as Free The Angels and Killa clash, yet blend, in an "oh so NYC" dance paradox. If you work long enough as a dancer, you are going to work with many types of dancers, but not always on the same gig. Kudos to Leichter for bringing so many different dancer-types together on one stage, not to mention a taste of the bright lights at the prestigious The Joyce Theater. I'm not sure why the two groups don’t dance together, but I'm delighted to see two very disparate halves make a whole.
Photo Credit: Andrew Smrz, Quinn Batson
iDANZ Critix Corner
Official Dance Review by Sasha Deveaux
Performance: nicholas leichter dance
Choreographer: Nicholas Leichter
Music: Stevie Wonder, Monstah Black (live) and other various house/pop music.
Venue: The Joyce Theater
Date: Wednesday, June 24, 2008 @ 7:30pm
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