Jump on the DanceWagon
Alyson Laury Dance, MarDel Dance, Lai Baca Dance, Asterial Dance
by Jerry Hochman
April 26, 2013 -- Ailey Citigroup Theater, New York, NY
When you attend a performance under the umbrella “Jump on the DanceWagon,“ you anticipate a program of emerging modern dance companies that may not have yet found their direction and probably don’t have ‘regular’ (semi-permanent) company dancers, presenting works that are not overly complex and have little in the way of production values. To a large extent that general description holds for the last weekend’s program at the Ailey Citigroup Theater, but although these companies may be ‘young’ in the overall scheme of things, their performances last weekend (the program I saw on Friday was repeated the following two evenings) were for the most part interesting concepts that were more than simple exercises in a particular style, and they promise better things to come.
Four companies participated in the program, presenting a total of seven dances: Alyson Laury Dance, MarDel Dance, and Lai Baca Dance each performed two dances, and Asterial Dance performed one. The style of each is what I would describe as ‘fusion’ – that is, the pieces presented, to a greater or lesser extent, combined abstract themes with a contemporary focus on bodies moving through space, with a sense of lyricism and a balletic foundation.
The program opened with Alyson Laury Dance’s New York premiere of Ms. Laury’s Falling. Except for the opening of the piece, which features three of the seven women lined horizontally upstage and serially ‘falling’ (softly, not hard pounds to the ground), and the concluding image of all the dancers lined up the same way, with one following the other moving downstage, falling, moving back into the line, and ultimately the entire line raising an arm upward as if ‘reaching’ as opposed to ‘falling’, there was little to connect the title to the choreographed images. Rather, between the opening and closing images the piece consisted of sequences of dancers moving through space in groups of two, three or more, with lyrical but powerful movement qualities. The seamless progression from one group of dancers to another (generally proceeding diagonally, upstage to down, right to left or left to right), with dancers being added to, subtracted from, or replacing the previous group, was well done, although the choreography overall had a repetitive quality to it.
At times pairs of dancers were ‘invaded’ by a third dancer, as if that dancer, both choreographically and thematically was interrupting the lyrical flow, and Ms. Laury’s choice of music, identified as ‘Cirque du Soleil New Age’, was antithetical to the lyrical quality being portrayed, most of the time, on stage. For these reasons, it appeared to me that the piece was perhaps more lyrical than Ms. Laury wanted it to be, and that she may have been trying to de-emphasize that, and consequently that Falling may be a work that is continuing to evolve. Regardless, Falling shows promise. The dancers included Alyssa Fulmer, Keiko Hamamura, Danielle Tamburro, Britney Tokumoto, Mikelle Rindfish, Elise Ritzel, and Ms. Laury.
Ms. Laury’s company also performed the concluding piece of the evening – the world premiere of Static Electricity, a piece for six women (all the dancers listed above except for Ms. Laury), and two men - Max Capelli-King, and Eddie Corely. It’s an intriguing work, more of a ‘concept’ piece than Falling, and quirkier, with the dancers outfitted in black from neck to toe, and with a techno-pure quality (but not what I would describe as ritually angular – just movement in sync with the theme and the accompanying composition. [The score, unidentified as to title, was by Alva Noto (sound artist Carson Nicolai, who specializes in conceptual and experimental music and samples of sounds – like, I suppose, the sound of static electricity heard in the piece). The score is mercilessly persistent, though I did not find it tiresome.]
There are two primary recurring motifs in Static Electricity: a shivery, slinky movement of head and body (presumably representative of the body/object’s reaction to being in contact with the electrical charge carried by another body), and the dancers, now ‘charged’ bodies, individually or in groups, moving quietly and somewhat ominously toward the audience, with their hands outstretched and their fingers moving back and forth as if trying to attract the viewer toward them (visually representing, I would think, the force inherent in an electrical/magnetic charge to pull an object toward it). Surrounding the appearances of these motifs are various ‘segments’, for want of a better word, featuring bodies moving around bodies or in motion as independent sparks of movement, jumping, running in place, moving in tandem with other ‘units’ or independent from the other charged bodies. [Though I describe these as ‘segments,’ the focus on one or more dancers outside the parameters of the motifs mentioned are not separated out from the piece as a whole – it all moves as fluidly as electric current.]
But although Static Electricty is the visualization of a concept, and, consistent with the concept, has a regimented, soulless quality that feels somewhat disturbing, it’s never boring. It’s not a likeable piece, but I must admit that its images are pronounced and provocative and linger in the memory more than those of other, lighter dances. Although it’s not a particularly complex work, Ms. Laury did what she wanted to do skillfully, and the piece was crisply presented by Ms. Laury’s company of electrically charged dancers. I enjoyed it less than Falling, but appreciated it more.
“MarDel Dance,” is a company created by Marianne Delehanty. Her first work on the program was the New York premiere of Ms. Delehanty’s Avarice. Not surprisingly, Avarice is a dance about greed. It opens with one of the dancers, David Smith, in tie and suspenders, addressing the audience as if he were the office manager or owner of a ‘financial services’ company addressing invisible recruits at an initial motivational meeting, telling them how hard they’ll have to work, how little they’ll get paid, etc., but that the ultimate success would be worth the effort. Translated, the harder they’d work, the more money he’d make. The piece then segues, as I recall, into a ‘work’ scene where Mr. Smith is joined by the rest of the cast (6 women), and then to what has to be a strip club, where Mr. Smith is ‘entertained’ by these same women, who are now dressed in sequined bling, and where he’s drained of his money. [It wasn’t clear to me whether these women were supposed to be the same as the menial workers at the company, and that this was some sort of commentary on their revenge, or if the fact that some of the women in this scene were the same as in the ‘work’ scene was just a consequence of the need to have different dancers take different roles.] The dance then concludes with Mr. Smith alone (except for an accompanying guitarist), apparently mourning his lost riches (as well as his foolishness). But, to this viewer, the sequence of scenes didn’t hang together sufficiently to display the force of a morality tale, which is where I think Ms. Delehanty was going. The choreography was coherently done, and the dancers (in addition to Mr. Smith and Ms. Delehanty, Jen Gill, Carly Harper, Michelle Lo Guercio, Christine O’Donnell, and Chelsea Nagy) did a good job with it [and a piece that’s put together to music by Vivaldi, Pink Floyd (“Money”), and Jason Mraz gets extra credit for intelligence, creativity, and audacity], but to this viewer Avarice didn’t quite work.
Ms. Delehanty’s second piece on the program, a brief solo performed by Ms Nagy, is called Anamnesis. The title is defined in the program notes as ‘reminiscence; recollection of ideas which the soul had known in a previous existence, especially by means of reasoning.’ I didn’t get that at all. Rather, what I saw was sort of ‘Dying Swan’ visual presentation, except the creature was a creature of the sea that looked like it had been deposited on a stretch of beach. [The accompanying music, by Clint Mansell (composer for “Black Swan,” among other films) and Nine Inch Nails, added to that impression.] That’s not meant as a pejorative comment – the movement quality as strongly performed by Ms. Nagy was not illustrative of death throes, but of a body being gently buffeted by, and gently responsive to, emotional waves.
The third company to perform was Lai Baca Dance, with choreography by Frances Lai Baca. This company appears to be the newest of the four, but both pieces performed by Lai Baca Dance – each of which was a premiere, and each choreographed to an unidentified composition by J.S. Bach – were more polished, both choreographically and as performed by the dancers, than one might have expected from a new company. Both dances also featured costumes that were more than simple body coverings, and which enhanced the visual appeal of the pieces. That neither of Ms. Lai Baca’s dances left a significant impression is not a criticism. That each was an appealing effort by an emerging choreographer is more important.
The first, Escape Velocity, included a lot of running (so much that I got tired just watching the dancers) and falling to the floor in addition to a balletic foundation. The movement quality was remindful, to me, of Paul Taylor. The second piece, Movement for 8, opens with what to this viewer was a nod to Balanchine’s Serenade. While I didn’t observe anything particularly innovative or didactic about it, that’s not a bad thing. Movement for 8 is a simple piece that is lovely to watch, stitched together with skill and sensitivity, with its only purpose apparently to be both interesting and pleasurable. It succeeded on both counts. Each dance was well performed by the company’s engaging group of dancers. In addition to the choreographer, the dancers were Dorian Cervantes, Lindsey Gruber, Tara Nicolas, Morgana Phlaum, Jennifer Radcliffe, Julia Radomyski, and Jillianna Richcrick.
The premiere of Like Shifting Shadows, the only work on the program performed by Asterial Dance, opened the second half of the program. Choreographed by company founder Megan Lynn to mesmerizing music by Jon Scoville (a composer whose music is largely arts related in general and dance related in particular, and whose biographical blurb for the University of Utah is a hoot) and Trentemoller , I found Like Shifting Shadows to be exactly what it was billed as: shifting shadows.
But saying that begs the question of how those ‘shifting shadows’ get to be displayed. The six dancers (Angela Guthmiller, Katie Heckman, Katie Horner, Tia Huston, Lara Spence, and Ms. Lynn) are divided into groups of two or three, spaced evenly across the stage, with one person in each group holding a torchlight of sorts. The stage is also illuminated by a separate torchlight in a fixed position. To my recollection, there is no other lighting. In the course of the dance, the dancer with the lamp tries to keep the other dancer from prying the lamp away from her, and throughout, at varying points in time (and focal points in the dance) the lamps are turned on and off.
Like Shifting Shadows isn’t as simplistic as that description may sound – there’s a menacing quality that permeates the piece (equivalent, perhaps, to the sensation one feels walking through dimly lit, shadowy areas), which adds needed texture to the piece. I liked the shadowplay as the dancers’ images were projected onto the backstage wall as the lights were turned on or moved from place to place, and there seemed to be a purpose behind the timing of the lights going on and off that I couldn’t decipher. Beyond being a dance showing shifting shadows, I didn’t get more from it (and perhaps I wasn’t supposed to). But it was a dramatic presentation that maintained interest throughout.
Overall, I thought that this “Jump on the DanceWagon” program, its second such program, accomplished what it was supposed to do: it introduced audiences to dances by companies they might not otherwise see, which are indeed emerging, and which show considerable promise. I look forward to seeing them again, and to watching them grow.
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