When a dance work is replete with repetition and it feels more like a second chance to see what we may have missed, the choreographer must be commended. Also, when the dancer delivering said movement presents it in a selfless way, we should take notice. The choreographer and the dancer here is Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker who recently premiered Mitten Wir Im Leben Sind/Bach6Cellosuiten (In the Midst of Life/Bach’s Cello Suites) at NYU Skirball (February 13-15). The title translated from the opening words of a Martin Luther chorale means “In the midst of life, we are in death.” Continuing to bridge the marriage between music and dance, cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras’ joined De Keersmaeker and her company Rosas in a memorable live performance of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Cello Suites” in Mitten Wir Im Leben Sind/Bach6Cellosuiten, but the treat was De Keersmaeker’s dancing the entire evening. There were six suites in all, and before each one, De Keersmaeker held up fingers to show where we were (one, two, three, etc.) A series of duets that morphed to solos followed, and De Keersmaeker danced a distinctively beautifully solo in all. For the most part, Queyras is positioned in different facings center stage, his sole cello very much a part of the tenor of the evening, and got each dance. Also before each suite, the dancers tape geometric patterns on the stage which they follow, or not. In sneakers and regular clothes, they energize the space, confound gravity and play with time through emotionally freeing movement filled with lush circles and unending patterns. It’s simply the magic of pure movement. Even more magical is watching De Keersmaeker’s with each dancer, finishing her part of the duet, then dashing off so that her partner would continue. Lit divisively as a way to listen more that see, in suite five we see De Keersmaeker through slits of light as Queyras plays. In the suite six the entire company, Boštjan Antončič, Marie Goudot, Julien Monty and Michaël Pomero return with De Keersmaeker and Queyras. Altogether, they are even more wonderful.
The choreographer Deborah Colker’s Cão Sem Plumas (Dog Without Feathers) references Brazilian writer Joāo Cabral de Melo Neto’s poem of the same name and which brings attention to the people and their coexistence with the underdevelopment in the Capbaribe River region of Northeast Brazil. The film helps to make this real and most of the action is on stage, but the film, filling the back wall, pulls attention from the dance. The dancers move through a desperately dry riverbed, and in comparable sequences on stage bringing to life Colker’s connection to what nature gives and what is taken away. Covered in thick mud, the gender neutral dancers, often move in unison from one idea to another, rolling and disrupting the dust likened to the dry riverbed that cover the stage. Later, isolated body parts dart through oversized crate-like structures re-imagining a Brazilian slum underscoring the dancers’ commitment to the work. To be sure, they and give more to the work than Colker’s movement cannon does, but with so much happening so little is delivered. Cão Sem Plumas (Dog Without Feathers) ran at The Joyce from February 4-9.
This is the last week of the annual five-week season for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) at City Center; performances will run until January 5. Sadly, there were some special days that won’t be repeated, but must be mentioned, topmost on the list is “Celebrating Chaya: Five Decades of Ailey History,” the evening dedicated Masazumi Chaya who is retiring as Associate Artistic Director after 28 seasons. In two Acts, and then an exceptional rendition of Mr. Ailey’s Revelations, decades of Chaya’s touch on each Ailey dancer was shared. There were speeches by Artistic Director Robert Battle, Artistic Director Emeritus Judith Jamison, and more. For sure, the performances by past members of AAADT solely in thanks to Chaya was the highlight of the evening. The list is long, but there were performances by Sylvia Waters, Sarita Allen, Donna Wood Sanders, Desmond Richardson, Tracy Inman, Amos J. Machanic, Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish, Troy Powell, Renee Robinson, Guillermo Asca, Aubrey Lynch, Nasha Thomas, Dwana Adiaha Smallwood, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell and more.
Another glorious highlight of the season was Ode by Ailey dancer and newly announced Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts’ response to gun violence. Ode is performed by either a cast of male or female dancers. Danica Paulos, Sarah Daley-Perdomo, Jacqueline Green, Samantha Figgins, Ghrai DeVore-Stokes and Jacquelin Harris danced on Sunday, December 29. Libby Stadstad’s gigantic backdrop, mostly black with colorful, cascading flowers from top to bottom sets the stage, so too does Don Pullen’s multi-sensory solo piano “Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part 1 Memories and Gunshots).” The movement comes from deep quiet places, solos within unison segments meet and glide against ever-evolving tempos. They go, go, go, and stop only to begin again with new breath. To make the work, say Roberts, it came from a “…lens of love; how we heal,” and we see this in the quiet screams and the many embracing arms that fill the space in circles and lines, then offer support as they fall recover and fall again. Ode is a masterpiece.
Catch the other works: Greenwood by Donald Byrd and Ode by Ailey dancer and newly announced Resident Choreographer Jamar Roberts; company premieres of BUSK by Aszure Barton and City of Rain by Camille A. Brown; new productions of Divining (1984) by Judith Jamison and Fandango (1995) Lar Lubovitch; plus repertory favorites including Ailey’s Memoria and Revelations. Find out more here
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC), students from The Julliard School Dance Division and Ronald K. Brown/Evidence danced works by Donald McKayle as part of Paul Taylor Modern Dance Company’s month-long Lincoln Center season, and Taylor’s ongoing initiative to celebrate American modern dance masterworks.
My response for AmNews here
A repertory-based full-time company, Gibney Dance Company invites choreographers to create original works or remount older ones on them. This year’s guest choreographers were Stefanie Batten Bland and Peter Chu (November 14-16) in the evening titled: “BOTH/AND.” In both works, the Company (Amy Miller, Nigel Campbell, Zultari Gomez, Jesse Obremski, Jacob Thoman and Leal Zielińska) looks good. Chu’s less strong work, jam packed with repeating canons, lines and unison movements, Forming Out, closed the program. The highlight of the evening was Batten Bland’s 5 St. Fifperhanway Place Apt. 2A wherein the Company really show as “collaborators.” Batten Bland often includes prop(s) in her works, here it was a large bed. With a bed on wheels, and six very active bodies as an equal partner, anything could happen and the collaborators allow for this. So, in 5 St. Fifperhanway Place… they invite everyone in during their bedtime frolicking. Costumed in pajamas, the dance happens on and off the bed in many groupings. All five are sometimes tucked under the sheets, feet poked out, they feign pillow fights, and move from sequence to sequence that envelope the space, and their luscious dance is non-stop from start to finish.
5 St. Fifperhanway Place Apt 2A is the second work in a new series. The original score is by Grant Cutler, and costumes are by Shane Ballard.
At Martha Graham Company performances, Artistic Director Janet Eilber bring audiences closer to Graham. Her informal welcome at the top of the show gives a breakdown of the masterwork 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 recent season (November 14-17 at Peak Performances), part of their conversation series, the Graham masterwork was Appalachian Spring (1944), celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the work in response to Appalachian Spring was Troy Schumacher’s The Auditions. To be clear, any attempt to be aligned with a Graham masterwork is a bit unfair, but Schumacher went boldly into creating this contemporary conversation. As Graham did with Aaron Copeland, Schumacher called on the composer Augusta Read Thomas to make an original score. Also, as Graham did, Schumacher dared to hope for normalcy in a complicated world, like then, now. Graham’s slower-moving work echoes the vicissitudes of wartime (think World War II and Japanese internment camps) and a need for the comfort of family. Time is given to hold hands in prayer, or support the back of the preacher, gently rock an imagined baby, unite through unison movement across the stage, or bowing heads in agreement while seated closely on a high-back bench. Conversely, Schumacher’s present-day world is fast-paced, and driven by a dogged competition to exist. Schumacher’s ethereal response steps into the now and takes the dancers on an all-out, current–day-chorus-line competition (audition) to get to a sought after place. A light, center stage that came and went, was the marker. In sneakers, colorful contemporary wear, hair flying, feet moving fast, there is barely time to breathe, but they do as they dart through their real and imagined space, vying to outdo each other. Schumacher version is definitely a good try, but maybe too ephemeral.
The Graham dancers are: Lloyd Knight, Ben Schultz, Xin Ying, Lloyd Mayor, Natasha M. Diamond-Walker, Lorenzo Pagano, Charlotte Landreau, Anne O’Donnell, Leslie Andrea Williams, Anne Souder, Laurel Dalley Smith, So Young An, Marzia Memoli, Jacob Larsen and Alessio Crognale.
Anne Bogart’s SITI Company, Elizabeth Streb’s STREB EXTREME ACTION & playwright Charles Mee - "FALLING & LOVING" @ Peak Performances
Anne Bogart’s SITI Company, Elizabeth Streb’s STREB EXTREME ACTION & playwright Charles Mee @ Peak Performances (September 24-29).
Surprises were happening even at curtain. During early rehearsals when Elizabeth Streb was away, Anne Bogart presented the dancers with text even though Streb was for it. And, during the run, in their friendly-taunting, Streb added more “substances” to the set although Bogart didn’t’ really for that. For the first time ever, Streb and Bogart joined forces after a collective sixty-one years in the business to make FALLING & LOVING. As is expected for any Streb production, in FALLING & LOVING she designed a monstrous structure, fondly called the “guck machine,” that would serve as a major part of the action. Picture a large sandbox with ledges that frame a big square space, and above, stings connected to tons of buckets that would expel varied substances. Bogart is from the world of theater and believes in shared partnership of collaboration. Bogart, Streb and Mee were all in.
Their balance of quirky text and daring dance/movement that seamlessly melds these disparate companies speak for itself. Much like the two bowling balls that’s manipulated and pendulum from side to side with differing speed, the same goes for this powerful show. Mee’s words come through in the very fast mix of movement and text, and his words cement and balance the forgiving love against the weighted love. In the midst to this cacophonous 90 minutes, one line goes: “a person begins to freak out,” and yes, we probably should “get up and run,” but we don’t because FALLING & LOVING is fulfilling and every unpredicted moment deserves our patience. We never know what words will match what action or vice versa. Streb’s “guck machine” could expel flour, sugar, water, molasses, confetti, feathers, paint balls, sprinkles, or popcorn. And, whenever they are prompted, the cast of 12 would breakout in dance number with all systems go; and it’s wild, really wild. But all does get “resolved.” “I find you give delight to me.” Yes, that’s right, a delight indeed, goes another memorable line.
Members of SITI Company are: Akiko Aizawa, Will Bond, Leon Ingulsrud, Ellen Lauren, Barney O’Hanlon and Stephen Duff Webber
Members of STREB EXTREME ACTION are: Kairis Daniels, Luciany Germán, Chance Hill, Julia Karis, Brigitte Manga and Fabio Tavares.
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.
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I am a performer, historian, consultant and dance writer. I am a Empire State College's online program Center for Distance Learning. I am also a former faculty member at The Ailey School and the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University dance major program, Hunter College, Sarah Lawrence College (Guest), 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."