Some thoughts on Jennifer Harrison Newman for AmNews
Talk about two people that make magic together! Larry Keigwin and Nicole Walcott were back together again, thank goodness, in KEIGWIN + COMPANY’s Places Please! (May 4–6) at Joe’s Pub at The Public. And, as is expected, when these two join forces, you will always have a rollicking good time, and you will get some good art to boot. Brought together through DanceNow’s Dance-mopolitan series, Places Please! was a well-tuned spoof on “…the final moments before the curtain goes up,” complete with costume changes on stage, working through rehearsal bits, and loads of audience participation. With a history that began in 2002 after creating their signature work, Straight Duet, and furthered in 2003 when they co-founded KEIGWIN + COMPANY, it’s no wonder the framework was already laid for this return engagement. In Places Please!, autobiographical or not, each took turn telling their own story—Keigwin told about his love/hate relationship with Broadway and fame, and Walcott ran down a review of dance and life. Both were sure to interject their dance diary, keeping their love for dance as the connecting force. Keigwin and Walcott’s ease and expertise in this non-stop mix of dance, theatre, and just the right amount of fun essentially confirms their meant-to-be duet. They are simply great collaborators. More please!
GRIT, or “Gibney Repertory Initiative for Tomorrow,” where the Gibney Dance Company gets to have works made or shown on them, featured works by Joanna Kotze and Reggie Wilson (May 4 – 6) at the downtown Gibney Dance Center. Following a promise to “make space for the future of dance” by commissioning works by contemporary dance artists, in this instance, Kotze and Wilson, were chosen and they shared an evening of starkly contrasting works. The large studio space was set in the round, and the dancers and audience got to be really close. First up was Kotze’s very abstract premiere, Already Ready, where in equally abstract costumes, Gibney Company members rush into the space and offering up a series of mostly of solos against a small group, clustered in opposing areas. Each soloist would begin their part and the others would pick up as a duet, trio or the like, and move on to the next thing. Next up was the sharply contrasting config. Khoum-baye Heah, Wilson’s reimagined mix of three previous works (PANG, The DEW WET, and Big Brick – A Man’s Piece) which pushed each mover to truly move in and out of complicated rhythmic scores, and sweat out their individual way while living-in-the-moment of Wilson’s layered and repeating score.
Gibney Company members are: Nigel Campbell, Kassandra Cruz, Amy Miller, Devin Oshiro and Brandon Welch.
Joanna Kotze is a Brooklyn-based dancer, choreographer and teacher who received the 2013 New York Dance and Performance “Bessie” Award for Outstanding Emerging Choreographer. Reggie Wilson (Executive and Artistic Director, Choreographer, Performer) founded his company, Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group, in 1989. Wilson draws from the cultures of Africans in the Americas and combines them with post-modern elements and his own personal movement style to create what he often calls “post-African/Neo-HooDoo Modern dances.”
To better introduce doug elkins choreography, etc. to those who may not be familiar, flipping the order of the evening’s program at Peak Performances (April 20 – 23) is a thought. Elkins’ Mo(or)town/Redux (2012), like The Moor’s Pavane (1949), Jose Limón’s iteration of said Shakespeare work, Othello, is an abstraction powered by gestures and a dramatic telling about this story of deception. As the title intones, Elkins used catchy and memorable songs from the Motown library as narrative while Cori Marquis, Kyle Marshall, Donnell Oakley and Elias Rosa used Elkins-esque mix of hip-hop and modern-ish movement styles from his early years to tell his version. The audience went home with Mo(or)town/Redux as last on their dance card, and this nice visit down memory lane, unfortunately, showed as a period piece.
Switch the script and pretend that Mo(or)town/Redux opened, and the world premiere of Elkins’ film, A Hundred Indecisions followed. The impressive cast in the film includes: Ephrat Asherie, Carlos Cordova, Carolyn Cryer, Parisa Khobdeh, Deborah Lohse, Javier “Ninja” Madrid, Marquis, Marshall, Oakley and Charemaine Seet, some of whom danced with Elkins in the past. And though not cutting-edge, here, everyone gets a chance to mix and groove with matured Elkins-esque moves in and around Montclair State University. The other world premiere, O, round desire follows furthering this introduction to his new and sophisticated movement vocabulary. A body roll might start a phrase, and before the finish, legs and arms loop endlessly, flips or other airborne moves are softened as they punctuate “House,” hip hop or whaacking moves with ease. For Elkins, A Hundred Indecisions is “…a companion to O, round desire, especially in its focus on desire and memory,” and we see it in the way the movement from film translates effortlessly to the stage. In O, round desire, the Company was joined by students of Montclair State University Department of Theatre and Dance and Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University.
Beginning in 2015, Stephen Petronio, in part, like dance pioneer, Paul Taylor set out to celebrate and preserve legendary dance works with the series titled “Bloodlines.” So far, The Paul Taylor Dance Company has presented Doris Humphrey’s Passacaglia (1938), Donald McKayle’s Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder (1959), Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels (1948) and Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace (1958). Since becoming artistic director of the Martha Graham Dance Company in 2005, Janet Eilber has also been uncovering and reconstructing some of Graham’s works. Imperial Gesture (1936) and Exstasis (1933 – reimagined by Virgine Mécène) are just two. And, like Taylor, Eilber have invited younger choreographers to reimagine masterworks by some pioneers. Petronio’s “Bloodlines” fall in line with these newfound directives given the danger of keeping the arts alive. “Bloodlines has been a gift and a deeply emotional process…” says Petronio. “I am incredibly lucky to revisit the work of choreographers who shaped me as a young dance artist. Decades later, I feel I can approach these masterpieces with a level of intellectual and physical rigor that finally matches my personal awe and emotional connection.” Up to now, his company has presented Cunningham’s RainForest (1968) and Trisha Brown’s Glacial Decoy (1979).
For their third season of “Bloodlines” at The Joyce Theater (March 28 – April 2), Petronio and Company brought to life a medley of improvisation-driven and pedestrian-powered works by Judsonites and their teacher, Anna Halprin. The program included Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A with Flags (1966/1970), Chair-Pillow (1969) and Diagonal (1963), an excerpt from Steve Paxton’s Goldberg Variations (1986), plus Halprin’s The Courtesan and the Crone (1999). In their profound 2017 presentation, the dancers of Stephen Petronio Company took on the task of again bringing the past to the present and offered up humor and command of complicated patterns, blowfish faces, a good deal of counting, and no music except for their sneakers squeaking in Diagonal. Deep in concentration and flowing seamless through the now famous pharases, they dance individually in Trio A With Flags, and then each with a chair and a white pillow, they are mesmerizing when they move mostly as one in Chair-Pillow. Petronio appeared briefly at the end, toting his pillow and chair and sits quietly, in the middle until the lights fade. The gems of the evening are Nicholas Sciscione’s embodiment of Paxton’s Excerpt From Goldberg Variations and Petronio’s heartfelt interpretation of Halprin’s The Courtesan And The Crone. Though starkly different, Goldberg… replete with movement that filled the space, and Courtesan… built on rich gesture, both were exquisite and especially intimate. Halprin performed Courtesan… at age 79. The evening closes with Petronio’s new work, Untitled Touch, a lovely conversation through movement centered solely on the intimacy of touch. The music was by longtime collaborator Son Lux. The dancers are: Ernesto Breton, Davalois Fearon, Kyle Filley, Jaqlin Medlock, Tess Montoya, Nicholas Sciscione, Joshua Tuason and Megan Wright.
Some thoughts on Complexions Contemporary Ballet for AmNews
The new face of the Martha Graham Dance Company is the result of artistic direction by Janet Eilber (since 2005) who is bent on bringing new audiences to see classic works and to introduce a spin on some. In 2015, for instance, Eilber invited four younger choreographers (Kyle Abraham, Liz Gerring, Sonya Tayeh and Michelle Dorrance) to make their own version of the iconic Lamentations (1930), and because of that, audiences have come to see another side of Graham. At the top the evening (February 22), Eilber gives a lay person’s breakdown of the masterwork on the program—Act 2 of Clytemnestra (1958), inspired by Aeschylus’ trilogy, the “Oresteia.” As just one from Graham’s series of drama-ridden, Greek theatre inspired works, this is the first and only evening-length one. From signature cupped-hands, calculated lines and curves in the Graham technique, there is no loss for drama and solid dancing from the ensemble in Clytemnestra. PeiJu Chien-Pott goes all out as Clytemnestra, Lorenzo Pagano is tops as Aegisthus and the original set designer, the late Isamu Noguchi, deserves equal billing. New on the program was Annie-B Parson’s I used to love you (world premiere) a re-imagining of Graham’s 1941 comedy Punch and The Judy. Black and white video footage ran concurrently across the back during Parson’s wild and funny version. Throughout, in really bright skirts made from a whole lot of materials and moving around the space on wheeled-office chairs to loud music, Anne O’Donnell, Leslie Andrea Willams and Laurel Dalley Smith are perfect, dancing narrators, commentators, chorus all at once; they truly carry the story. More humor came from Graham’s Maple Leaf Rag (1990. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s lyrical Mosaic, was the other contemporary work on the program. The evening’s gem was Ekstasis (1933) by Graham, reimagined by Virginie Mecene (Program Director and Director of Graham 2) and danced by Chien-Pott. Eilber explains that Ekstasis was pivotal for Graham because after “...using a more static form…she discovered another way…a pelvic thrust gesture.” Alone, Chine-Pott’s figure is outlined in a gold, tube-like dress, she slithers her pelvis, her shoulders, her head and ever-so-slightly her feet from here to there and she is breathtaking. Ekstasis must be revered as the work that captures Graham’s “…embrace of the sensual and the erotic in all manifestations…whether physical or spiritual…” Ekstasis personifies the season’s theme—“Sacred /Profane.” The company of dancers are: So Young An, Chien-Pott, Laurel Dalley Smith, Abdiel Jacobsen, Lloyd Knight, Charlotre Landreau, Jacob Larsen, Lloyd Mayor, Ari Mayzick, Marizia Memoli, O’Donnell, Pagano, Ben Schultz, Anne Souder, Williams, Konstantina Xintara and Xin Ying.
Ohad Naharin titles his most recent work at BAM (February 1 – 4) Last Work--was it his final? So many things are still in place where the Company and Naharin are concerned, so who knows? He made Last Work is 2015 and two years later the company still exists, Naharin is still the artistic director, and has been since 1990 with a break from 2003-4 when he was house choreographer. What is known though is that true to form, Naharin’s “gaga technique” and the dancer’s translation drives the work. Expressly trained in “gaga,” their approach is raw, animal-like and each of them own and express the movement differently. On the white stage, they enter and exit from slotted walls that frame both sides. Their movements are slippery; joints seem to move without connecting muscles, they balance beyond comfort and interchange from wiggly to still places with ease. Specially made solos and duets are un-rushed and when they move as one, there are picturesque flashes of how well they work together. Nothing but 17 pairs of hands and fingers covered one dancer from head to toe is one instance, another is their organically-timed Graham-esque floor sequence. In Last Work, like others, Naharin drops the unexpected at the most unexpected time. Here, for example, a jogger, on a treadmill, in a blue dress runs for the entire length of the show, at the end, another uses packing tape to connect all 17 dancers, and facing away from the audience, yet another pump one arm up and down then turns to the audience and we watch him feverishly polish a rifle, and there was more. Purposeful or not, some of these unexpected events are repeats from previous works and vital to the tone of Last Work. Glaringly missing is Naharin’s eclectic collage of music, usually full of the unexpected. The performers are: William Barry, Yael Ben Ezer, Matan Cohen, Omri Drumlevich, Bret Easterling, Hsin-Yi Hsiang, Rani Lebzelter, Eri Nakamura, Ori Moshe Ofri, Rachel Osborne, Nitzan Ressler, Ian Robinson, Kyle Scheurich, Or Meir Schraiber, Maayan Sheinfeld, Yoni Simon, Bobbi Jene Smith and Zina (Natalya) Zinchenko. During the run at BAM, “Mr. Gaga” the documentary about Naharin’s life in dance directed by Tomer Heymann ran at the Film Forum in Manhattan.
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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."