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Dance Theatre Workshop

SummerDanz: Emerging Artists

by Cecly Placenti

Tuesday July 7, 2009 -- DTW, New York

Dance Theatre Workshop served up a satisfying evening of movement tapas on July 7th with a program both unique and varied. A traditional serving of edible tapas is designed to encourage conversation, in that people are not focused on eating an entire meal but merely picking at the selection to their taste. That was just so in DTW’s SummerDanz sampler of emerging artists, and from the excited murmuring and energetic applauding of the crowd, it did what it was designed to do flawlessly.

Featured on the bill were 9 distinctly different pieces by three choreographers. Sara Joel, a Cirque de Soleil veteran, opened the evening with “Boundless,” a gorgeous solo done on hanging silks. Twisted in the fabric, gesturing slowly with her legs, she began an almost hypnotic lullaby. Sitting up in the silks, suddenly we got an idea who this sweet song might be for; Ms. Joel is pregnant, and her large yet narrowly contained belly, exposed below a sports bra and above spandex shorts, became both a partner and a symbol.  Pressing her body front ways into the fabric, we saw its outline as it folded and unfolded into the white, turning silk. Ms. Joel has exquisitely sensitive hands which moved through the air as if moving through water or caressing the face of a child. She placed her hands on the fabric that supported her with a kindness normally reserved for a human partner. Never once did we see effort or strain in fingers, or hands that clenched or grabbed. In “Surface,” her second solo performed in a plastic half-bubble that looked like one of those hanging chairs from the 1970’s, she created an underwater world, looking like a fish exploring her bowl. With the grace and effortlessness that mark all of her movements, she ended lying on her side on the floor, looking up at the confinement she left behind, lovingly cupping her belly as the lights came down.

“Boundless,” choreographed by former Cirque de Soleil member Anna Venizelos and her freelance contortionist sister Emily in collaboration with Ms. Joel, gave a very different spin to the circus arts. The title could be used to describe the amazing facility and hyper-mobility of their bodies -- every joint was able to move to its fullest range -- or to describe their movement possibilities. Dressed in tight black unitards that looked like S&M costumes slashed in all the right places, the two sisters looked like one organism using each other as fulcrum points in their kinetic architecture. At once dizzyingly sexual and carefully meditative, they could have been single-celled organisms dividing on a petri dish or two creatures involved in an elaborate mating ritual. Looking sometimes praying-mantis- like, sometimes human, their slight bodies’ belied mountainous strength.

Gregory Dolbashian presented three works in the program singular for their seamless and organic mixture of percussive, almost awkward gestures and smooth balletic line. In “Grey Flowers,” the two women wearing gauzy dresses sometimes looked like animated dolls and at others like stalking spiders. Mr. Dolbashian’s natural movement conversation, soft to jagged, lilting to aggressive, staccato to smooth, was fascinating and satisfying. “Double or Nothing,” a solo he also performed, showed a more sinewy, prowling side to his work. With undulating movements, explosive and athletic, Mr. Dolbashian was captivating with his oxymoronic physicality of lightness and power.

Like Mr. Dolbashian who creates pieces both unique yet rich with personal authenticity, so Mr. Skybetter, the third choreographer on the program, also has the ability to present works that are singular yet bear the stamp of his highly skilled mind. Both men possess enough craftsmanship to make work that takes you on a rolling journey with only faint yet definitive reminders of your tour guide. Sydney Skybetter is a choreographer whose work is triumphantly modern yet refreshingly classical. He is highly attentive to detail and his visual constructs vividly and pleasingly relate to their musical counterparts. Physical, abstract and emotionally resonant, Mr. Skybetter’s work is sophisticated and joyous.

“Fugue State,” of which only an excerpt was presented this evening, was playful both in relationship to the music by Shostakovich and in the relationship of the performers to each other. With movements that tinkled like piano keys, the audience was treated to interesting partnerships in which both the male and female roles were highlighted. Women supported as men flew or were lifted, and vice versa. In music, a fugue is a form of composition in which the basic principle is imitative counterpoint of several voices, and Mr. Skybetter uses the layering of this formal structure to create texture and resonance. In “Near Abroad,” the sense of urgency and intimacy created in the duet comes more from the spaces between the dancers than their closeness. They seem to struggle between impulses of attachment and separation. Mr. Skybetter’s partnering choreography is like a good conversation; rolling, passionate, organic, yet unpredictable and surprising. “Halcyon,” premiering this evening, was a soothing treat for the eyes and spirit. Nine dancers took the stage in three rows creating a tranquil sea of moving bodies. Inconspicuously from the wings, a tenth dancer joined the rolling waves, knocking another dancer out like a pool ball gently replacing another on a felt table. This pattern repeated several times before a lift crested and broke the surface. In Greek mythology, a halcyon is a bird that has the power to charm the winds and calm the ocean waves. Mr. Skybetter’s “Halcyon” most certainly charmed and calmed its audience with rows of dancers performing sea-like movement phrases in close canon, creating an ebb and flow of dynamics very satisfying to the eye. At the end, three lines converged again; the dancers reached an arm upward in a short one count canon, and suddenly ran off stage. As the final note of the music sounded with the stage still lit in placid blue light, a rippling murmur of pleasure traveled through the audience like an ocean breeze, confirming the sweet spell had been broken.

To say these artists are still emerging is a gross misjudgment. They have emerged and continue to present delightfully satisfying, sophisticated and engaging work.

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