The Israeli-born, New York-based choreographer Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie is the artistic director of her self-named dance company, Ephrat Asherie Dance. She calls herself a b-girl, and she makes work that is infused by her many experiences in social dance. Asherie premiered Odeon at The Joyce along with a crew of multi-faceted dancers: Manon Bal, Teena Marie Custer, Val ‘Ms. Vee’ Ho, Linda ‘LaNaija’ Madueme, Matthew ‘Megawatt’ West, and Omari Wiles who took on many styles and easily blended each of them. There was fast footwork, the six step, a cypher, and even more moves from the hip hop lexicon. But Asherie adds her own twist. Her brother, Ehud Asherie, with musicians Eduardo Belo, Sergio Krakowski and Ranjan Ramchandani) complimented the dance and musical ride, mixing samba, jazz, house, vogue, plus some ballet and contemporary forms. Although she doesn’t steal the limelight, Asherie, a total team-player definitely stands out, but everyone is there with her. The crew moves as a comfortable unit, but leaves room for each to shine. From the rhythmic clapping that develops and passes through each body part, to floating bodies that land firmly then glides through pattern upon pattern of cannon and suspension, everything step is taken into account. Let’s hope that this is just the beginning and there will be more.
Rubberband, under choreographer and artistic director Victor Quijada opened The Joyce Theater’s 2019-2020 season (the first on a really good season curated for Aaron Mattocks, the new Director of Programming). Quijada’s evening-length Ever So Slightly is long, and packed with ideas on top of ideas about his promised look at “…irritants that bombard us in our daily lives” but doesn't quite get there. There is so much good dancing, but sadly, the work flat lines at about the ¾ point and the intended message just repeats itself. At intervals, between this mix of hip hop and contemporary styles, there are long and slow sequences of implosive drama where a soloist is surrounded by the cast as they watch. Like daggers, bodies jut repeatedly in and out of the floor, or with uncomfortable determination, a dancer punches his head with his fist. The ten dancer-athletes, as they are called, are equally billed as choreographers, and they give their all. Harken back to the very beginning and that’s where the pleasure meter is tipped. In the upper right corner (stage left), the musicians (Jasper Gahunia and William Lamoureux) set the tone, and the white catty-corner floor is peopled with the dancer-athletes, ready to go. Music and movement begins, and the stage is on fire with hop hop and then some, taken to a pleasurable high. Here, and only here is where Quijada mixes the many ideas with just enough other forms.
The dancer-athletes are: Amara Barner, Jean Bui, Daniela Jezerinac, Sydney McManus, Bronte Poire-Prest, Jerimy Rivera, Zack Tang or Jontae McCrory, Ryan Taylor, Lavinia Vago and Paco Ziel. Live musicians are: Gahunia on bass, drum machine, keyboard and turntable, and Lamoureux on violin, guitar and keyboard.
At the end of the Manmade Earth, 600 Highwaymen’s most resent show, the young performers (high schoolers and first or second year college students): Nur Aisyah, Nasra Ali, Raiza Almonte, Dimyana Angelo, Amanda Barsi, Augustin Bonane, Jeanvier Nkurunmziza and Diaaeddin Zabadani sat on the benches near the exit of The Invisible Dog, grinning from ear to ear, with flowers in hand. Their uncontained energy filled the space, and rightfully so because although they were mostly new to the stage, they drew the audience in with their maturity. The master minds behind 600 Highwaymen, Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone give credit to the performers, noting that Manmade Earth was created “in conversation” with them. These teenagers from the Congo, Egypt, Malaysia, Somalia, Syria, and Tanzania tell their own stories, and it’s their forthright telling in the raw space, that is even more masterful. Sure, they were well-directed and their presence and attention to the message at hand, was palpable, but it’s their delivery that supersedes all. Along the length of the space, a drop cloth helped to contain the area as they ask questions: “Do you understand me...” or “Why do you talk like that?” They engage with the audience, they make eye contact, and as teens share their truth, “…all these eyes on you…so, so scary…” Throughout, as a team, and with breathtaking care, they create an installation made from giant-sized cardboard pieces, ladders, and hefty supporting wood. A surprising reveal of a solid structure made during the show, came at the end. But, all this becomes undone by the end. In their program note, the teens write: “We hope you enjoyed our performance. We hope we got the job done. We enjoy putting it on for you.” A shorter evening would have really cemented the magic.
600 Highwaymen's Manmade Earth was presented as part of the French Institute Alliance Francaise's 2019 Crossing the Line Festival.
For the fifth and final iteration of the “Bloodlines” series (April 11 - 13) at NYU Skirball, Stephen Petronio Company again honored the legacy of modern dance icon Merce Cunningham. Also celebrated on this momentous evening was the lesser-known Rudy Perez a student of Cunningham who “…until recently [was] largely excluded from the dominant postmodern canon,” according to the release. On the program was Cunningham’s Tread, Perez’s Coverage, both made in 1970, and Petronio’s premiere, American Landscapes. Up to now, chronologically, the Company has presented Cunningham’s Rain Forest (1968), Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy (1979), Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1966/1970), Chair-Pillow (1969) and Diagonal (1963), an excerpt from Steve Paxton’s Goldberg Variations (1986), Anna Halprin’s The Courtesan and the Crone (1999), and last year, Cunningham’s Signals (1970).
Each of the five evenings gave rise to remembering the icons and further cemented Pertronio’s commitment, but they also showed the ease in the dancer’s delivery of the Cunningham movement canon. Each was satisfying, but this fifth one is bitter sweet. From the voyeuristic view in Tread through large standing fans that lined the front of the stage guarding and directing our view, to the quirky and fun configurations of bodies stacking and unstacking, and the playful stories each configuration brought, Trend was a good reminder of the different faces of Cunningham. Ernesto Breton in Perez’s Coverage followed and it was magical. The formula was a roll of masking tape to identify the movement space, a jumpsuit, a hardhat, minimalist movement topped off with a playlist of music and commentary as relevant in the 70s as it is now. The program closed with Petronio’s American Landscapes. In oversized jumpsuits, Petronio makes an appearance in a playful duet (reading, waltzing, and kissing) with Martha Eddy who forecasts a bit of what’s to come at the end of their duet when she walks forward, slowly opens her arms wide, then exits. Then it was time for all 10 dancers, and with a backdrop of poignant visuals, and Petronio’s emotion-driven movement stories, they take a deep-dive into a world of compassion. They lift each other, hold on tight to each other, make room for each other while Robert Longo’s images show a world of war—forced to “take a knee,” gather to march for women’s rights, and a gaggle of other profound messages. Towards the end, the dancers hold hands and form a line across the front, walk forward, and slowly opens their arms.
The dancers are: Bria Bacon, Taylor Boyland, Ernesto Breton, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Ryan Pliss, Nicholas Sciscione, Mac Twining and Megan Wright. Brandon Collwes was a guest artist in Tread. Music was performed live by members of Composers Inside Electronics (Seth Cluett, John Driscoll, Phil Edelstein,Cecilia Lopez, Michael J. Schumacher) on specific nights. Staging for Tread was by Jennifer Goggans, and Sarah Swenson for Coverage. Lighting design for Tread is by Richard Nelson, Joe Doran for Converge, and by Ken Tabachnick for American Landscapes.
At Martha Graham Company performances, Artistic Director Janet Eilber bring audiences closer to Graham. Her very informal welcome at the foot of the stage gives the lay person the breakdown of the masterworks to be performed, and then she makes connections to newer works and why, or how they may, or may not relate to Graham’s dance-making legacy. For the Company’s Joyce Theater season (April 2 -14), the Graham masterworks on Program B, Secular Games/Men’s Section (1962) and El Penitente (1940) were well received, so too was Laurel Dalley Smith and Lloyd Mayor’s sweet rendition of Lucinda Childs’ Histoire (1999). A nice balance was the premiere of Pam Tanowitz’s Untitled (Souvenir), a daring reimagining of Graham’s signature movement language, complete with borrowed set pieces from Graham works and runway-style costumes by Ryan Lobo and Ramon Martin of TOME, that complimented Tanowitz’s standout solos among the large cast. But in true form, the women of Graham commanded the stage in Graham’s Chronicle, the 1936 showstopper. There are three sections: I. Spectre-1914 (Drums—Red Shroud—Lament) in which Xin Ying is transfixing as the lead; II. Steps in the Street (Devastation—Homelessness—Exile) when a growing army of eleven dancers, led by Anne Souder (4/13) enter backwards, and in many entrance and exits throw their bodies forward and back, stomp the floor or lift their chests with outreached arms; and then in III. Prelude to Action (Unity—Pledge to the Future) Ying returns then beckons the others and together, repeating portions of the other sections, they powerfully, and in true dramatic Graham fashion, their movement grew to a crescendo to close the program.
The Graham dancers are: Peiju Chien-Pott, Lloyd Knight, Ben Schultz, Xin Ying, Natasha M. Diamond-Walker, Charlotte Landreau, Mayor, Lorenzo Pagano, Souder, So Young An, Smith, Jacob Larsen, Marzia Memoli, Anne O’Donnell, Leslie Andrea Williams, Alyssa Cebulski, Alessio Crognale and Cara McManus.
Venezuela, by former artistic director, now “house choreographer,” Israeli-born Ohad Naharin of the Batsheva Dance Company premiered at BAM (March 27 – 30). The 2017 work is split into two 40-minute sections, there is no break in-between for the dancers or the audience, the second section is literally a repeat of the first. Venezuela is good, and the pairing of the dancer’s sureness in delivery with Naharin’s soundtrack, makes it powerful. Even more intriguing is the way Naharin tenders each section. The costumes and his gaga-fluid movement remains the same in both sections, but his soundtrack plus the slight differences he skillfully guides, is food for thought. His mix of Gregorian chants, tango, hardcore rap, rock and more, encourages this thinking. Avi Yona Bueno’s lights also shifts and assists with the tenor of the move from one section to the other. Dressed in dark and formalized costumes against the white floor and bare wings, at first, the dancers sway back-and-forth, in a close clump to the low hum of Gregorian chants—almost expressionless. But it builds. After all, this wouldn’t be a Naharin work without the signature slow and deliberate walks, bodies falling or catapulting into the air, knees awkwardly falling inwards, hyperextended ribs, impromptu and repetitive running, or this time, skipping. Standouts this time was that gut wrenching scream, or when three dancers sit in a deep squat on top of three others as they crawl on all fours, moving gingerly forward towards the audience with a dead stare. The first time was eerie, but the second time was dark. Or is it the reverse? There was also the rhythmic march of the flags, from one side of the stage to the other. The first time around, we don’t know that they are flags or that they represented nations because they are plain, and when everybody gets one, they swing them and smack them into the floor. But the second time around, they are revealed, and we pause and maybe identify which nation is represented. And while Naharin makes room for this deep thinking, he jolts us back to the now when on a microphone, dead center, dancers scream lyrics from Biggie Smalls or convulse to music from Rage Against The Machine. The back-and-forth recall within those 40 minutes are quizzically endless. Venezuela is epic.
Japanese-born and New York–based choreographer Kota Yamazaki wants to spread his version of Japanese Butoh far and wide. Butoh originated in post-war Japan and is defined as “dance of darkness.” However, company member, and Yamazaki’s wife Mina Nishimura who often translates for him, explains that Butoh is not traditional Japanese dance, but instead an “underground, avant garde dance form.” With his company Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug, now a New York staple since making a home here in 2002, Yamazaki has made three installations of the dance series Darkness Odyssey inspired by the words of French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and Butoh pioneer Tatsumi Hijikata’s notion of “dance of darkness.” Yamazaki continues his exploration of what he calls “the vaporizing body, or the extremely fragile body” which helps to realize his vision in presenting Butoh in a different way.
Darkness Odyssey Part 3: Non-Opera, Becoming (April 3 – 6) presented at New York Live Arts (NYLA) is Yamazaki’s latest installation. In this version, like the others, the cast is made up of a diverse group of contemporary dance artists: Jennifer Gonzalez, Kotze, Taketeru Kudo, Nishimura, Sinandja (Alain) Dakonyéme, Connor Voss and Yamazaki. For the New York Times Gia Kourlas wrote, “In his dances and in life, the choreographer Kota Yamazaki believes that a person needs to be fluid, like water…You have to keep flowing, so people of different backgrounds can have a freer exchange,” Yamazaki said. Nishimura, added with a laugh, “It’s very Japanese.” Following this, in Darkness Odyssey Part 3… Kudo, a Butoh performer embodies an animal in his movements, the Togolese Dakonyéme is remembered for his fast footwork, Gonzalez and Voss for commitment, Kotze and Nihimura their deep concentration, and Yamazaki for his sublime presence. For example, at the top, without knowing that the show officially began, Yamazaki darts into the bare space, cutting and piercing through the air; he is mesmerizing. Also, for a really long time, midway through the evening Yamazaki holds magically still against the back wall, while duet partners change and rearrange continuously downstage. Throughout the evening the others offer versions of quick or slow solos, jaws relaxed, and may mumble sounds as they move trans-like throughout the space. Every once in a while they might join and sweep through a unison duet, or share moments of discovery in their personalization of Yamazaki’s vision. But the truth is they borrow from each other, and blend into each other while holding their own individuality. And, as is Yamazaki’s intention, in each of their bodies, the possibilities seem endless.
Darkness Odyssey Part 3: Non-Opera was commissioned as part of NYLA’s Live Feed residency program. Darkness Odyssey Part 1: Expose Your Feet To The Dry Lights premiered in 2016 in Japan. Darkness Odyssey Part 2: I or Hallucination premiered in 2017 at Baryshnikov Arts Center (BAC) during a BAC Artist Residency with contemporary dance artists Julian Barnett, Raja Feather Kelly, Joanna Kotze and Nishimura.
Centered around the desire of young black girls to seize freedom no matter the societal demands on unstraightened hair, creator/performer Okpokwasili and designer/director Peter Born collaborated on Adaku’s Revolt (March 17 – 24) at Abrons Art Center. This timeless and for some, painful topic, resonates, and so in Okpokwasili’s tale, young black girls call out the wrongs and take charge to make a change. Equally important though, to those who have no idea about these “existential threats” that black girls have had to endure, a lot was shared. Born brings the audience into the experience from the beginning. After a long walk through a winding hall, the audience sat on three sides, around the artists already positioned in the space, a large stage portioned off to include everyone. We are all very close. The traditional auditorium seats are blocked off by a large white screen inclined upward from the floor to the ceiling. The performers, AJ Wilmore (Adaku), Audrey Hailes & Khadidiatou Bangoura (Aunties/Ethereal ones), Okpokwasili (Aunty/Mother), and Breyanna Maples (Sister), are on the floor, perched on their elbows, chests lifted, heads dropped back and feet flexed, under a chandelier of desk lamps and a gigantic piece of plastic blowing over them. In yet another tale, the black comedian Whoopi Goldberg might have called this her “long luxurious blonde hair.”
The name Adaku, in the Igbo language spoken in Okpokwasili’s native Nigeria, means “one who brings wealth to the family.” So it follows that the text is built on empowerment, counter to those about the difficulty in combing “the kitchen,” (hair at the nape of one’s neck) aka “naps,” and more. The text came so fast it’s hard to keep up, but here are a few: “my daughter’s hair was very strong…it would even carry a goat,” or “I want my hair to fight,” Okpokwasili would say. The text, the space, the props (a hot comb, wigs hanging on the branch on a “tree”), or the promise of freedom in the large white screen, kept things real. The slow and deliberate walks, crawling on all fours, supported pairing when their heads fall back from the release of their arched backs, or the convulsing spin when Adaku refuses to be one with the unnatural wig, makes Okpokwasili and Born’s dance drama physically, visually and spiritually satisfying. “Nappy” black hair, the protagonist, conjured up ways to empower each character in our imagination. We can leave with this, from Adaku and the cast: “I’m gonna grow my hair…gonna open all the doors in my hair…don’t try to make me brush my hair…It is time to put aside the lying we been doing…”
Adaku’s Revolt was presented as part of the French Institute Alliance Française’s (FIAF) TILT Kids Festival.
For nearly fifty years now, Latin and now Latinx identity has been a part of Ballet Hispánico’s trajectory. This year, Cuban-American artistic director Eduardo Vilaro, since taking the helms in 2009, continues to shed a well-needed light on cultural amalgams for the Company. "Immigration has enabled plethora of cultural diversity…this program is an example of our leadership role in embracing the diversity, inclusion, and intersectionality in culture. We continue our mission to expose the American experience of Latinx culture and encourage our audience to go beyond the surface of what they know," said Vilaro, In their one-week season (March 26-31) at The Joyce Theater, the mix included works by Taiwanese-American Edwaard Liang, Filipino-American Bennyroyce Royon, and making a return, Belgian-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. The dancers are glorious in each of the works! Premieres by Liang and Royon opened and closed, respectively. Though no specific cultural bent is glaring in Liang’s linear El Viaje which opened, Royon’s imaginative infusion of folks (well...dancers), carousing, while manipulating and moving through colorful shipping crates in Homebound/Alaala closed the program. In the middle, and without doubt, the highlight of the evening, was the 2013 Sombrerísimo originally made for a cast of six men by Ochoa. The women, Shelby Colona, Jenna Marie, Eila Valis, Gabrielle Sprauve, Dandara Veiga and Melissa Verdecia, were phenomenal. Take note men, because these fierce movers mastered this mix of play, traditional movement (quick bits of salsa), defying and daring flips, balances and so much more, to cement their no-question-asked sisterhood, all the while with bowler hats traversing the space and sometimes stealing the spotlight. BRAVA!
One had to be strapped in and truly ready for a Netta Yerushalmy’s 4-hour, 6-part marathon, Paramodernities (March 14 – 17) at New York Live Arts. The ambitious event included 2 intermissions with snacks, a cast of 20 dancers and scholars, and a blow-by-blow deconstruction of Nijinsky’s Sacre (1913), Graham’s Night Journey (1947), Ailey’s Revelations (1960), a mix of Cunningham works Rainforest, Sounddance, Points in Space, Beach Birds, and Ocean (1968-1990), dance numbers from the 1969 Fosse’s film Sweet Charity, and a response to Balanchine’s Agon (1957) that includes none of the original choreography. This history within history that tackled “…contemporary themes of sovereignty, spectacle, race, feminism and ableism…” was jam packed with truth and quips, and paired long ago movement with text. In Paramodernities #2, for example, Yerushalmy and Taryn Griggs’ in Grahamesque torqued and dramatic breath-driven movement was in response to Carol Ockman’s text on her visit to the dentist and more. There was also Paramodernities #4 where in requisite long sleeve unitards, Marc Crousillat and Brittany Engel-Adams, danced sleek Cunninghamesque movement alongside text by Claudia La Rocco but added their own; a nod to Cunningham’s “Chance” dance. Paramodernities #3 Revelations: The Afterlives of Slavery closed the program, and to text by Thomas F. DeFranz, Stanley Gambucci, Jeremy Jae Neal, Nicholas Leichter and DeFarnz brought the house down. Powered by the evangelization of Ailey’s Revelations, this newly envisioned version took on another life and demanded a new look at people as people, period. Yerushalmy leaves us with a lot to think about.
The large cast of intoxicating performers are (in order of appearance): Crousillat, David Kishik, Yerushalmy, Michael Cecconi, Griggs, Ockman, Michael Blake, Joyce Edwards, Julia Foulkes, Hsiao-Jou, Megan Williams, Engel-Adams, Claudia La Rocco, Gerald Casel, Magdalena Jarkowiec, Georgina Kleege, Mara Mills, DeFrantz, Gambucci, Neal, and Leichter.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a faculty member at Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College (Guest), Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member of The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program, Kean University and The Joffrey Ballet School's Jazz and Contemporary Trainee Program. I write on dance for The Amsterdam News, Dance Magazine and various publications. Click below to read more about me at my home page - "About Me."