Though I'm about to see several very professional companies at the NY Skirball Center, the energy feels more like a dance competition than a performance. There's intensity, discussion in between pieces and altogether a "more real than nervous for the first day of kindergarten" tight-lipped thing happening. Instantly Dance Gotham feels like a representation of how dance is formed - through communicating and vitality. The following four companies stood out above the other four who performed...
John-Mark Owens' Vespers, featuring Ramona Kelly and Adrian Silver, brings vitality and life into pointe work that seems void of actual "work." The pair's mesmerizing duet marries grace and athleticism in a world that seems free of sharp angles. What begins as a classically diminutive female character at the whim of the hulking male character becomes a playground for push and pull between the pair. Just as Kelly's strength grows beyond a classical female ballet role, Silver's grace grows beyond a classical male ballet role. Offering one another's bodies as landscapes, the piece exudes infinite sensitivity. They achieve towering shapes regardless of Kelly's treacherous toes. Kelly eventually abandons Silver as he lays motionless on the stage. Owens manages to take the achingly beautiful essence of ballet to a modern place where grace does not translate to a lack of strength.
The Dash Ensemble's Sundowning, with choreography by Gregory Dolbashian, is beautifully enlivened by Christopher Ralph and Alexandra Johnston. Johnston takes the focus initially with movements similar to a teenage girl donning high heals for the first time. With mannequin-esque control of her torso, her feet seem immobilized by the stage teetering one half-inch above the marley. This focus transcends the entire piece and allows the audience to know that work is happening, that the physical bodies on the stage must exert energy to please the eyes that have marched in looking for a reason to stay open. This is not to say that the work feels forced. The pairing soars and connects with subtlety that softens the garish contrast of their bright yellow and purple shirts. Power shifts flow seamlessly as their awareness of their strength is matched by the quietude of their artistry. Ralph romances his explosiveness with lingering moments of stillness. He flows so easily between these extremes while wearing slippery socks that the rowdy room is void of even a whisper.
Ralph appears once more in Nicholas Andre Dance's Until Blue with choreography by Nick Ross. Joined by five other dancers Ralph athletic movement quality shines so brightly he's easily recognizable from earlier in the evening. The sextet proves that bike shorts can be made beautiful when donned by the right bodies. With just four dancers on stage unison quickly breaks into dueling duets whose energy encourages the opposite pairing. With the six performers on stage, the energy churns like a tornado that is worth watching without that threatening deathlike quality pervading. They forge harmonies as opposed to dissonant chords.
Camille A. Brown's Mary proves that words never need leave the body to communicate if that body has the head to toe dexterity of Brown. Brown has the enigmatic ability to reach the entire audience while making you feel like an audience of one. With her full body sign language, Brown is like a body of water oozing across the stage, navigating moments of current, riding the forces of restraint and rising beyond floods. To watch her is to feel attached both physically and emotionally to her journey. I feel my body shift in its seat as if I can become closer to Brown by doing so. Truly possessive of a star quality the room seems to shine brighter because of her light. As the true highlight of Dance Gotham Brown's three minutes would have been reason enough to travel to the NYU Skirball Center.
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