Performances I saw in NYC

Some thoughts on performances I saw in NYC October 5 – 12. It’s taken me a while to put together some thoughts from various chicken scratches – but I persevered as a way to practice writing about dance.  I think overall what I am seeing and responding to is this interesting position dance has as both a vehicle for authentic embodiment of cultural/social identity as well as a vessel for the lived experience – the emotional, visceral, kinesthetic experience of life.

In no particular order, these are the companies/pieces I saw as part of Fall for Dance Festival:

Companhia Urbana de Danco (Brazil) “8 solos no geral” – Love this. Saw the company in Columbus last year… a company born from all kinds of complicated and astonishing social and economic systems in Brazil; the dancing is both intensely personal, individual, as well as being a “part” of something bigger. I personally feel adrift in the movement languages… loving it, appreciating the skill, the weight, the articulations, but really not knowing the provenance, the hybridity, wishing to know more where traditions and inventions come and go, merge and separate. I’m so white.

Fang-Yi Sheu and Herman Cornejo “Pheromones” – lovely to watch them work but not really much of a piece. Seems like Fall For Dance likes to include these “stars” on their program more for their name, their lovely technique, but not for any choreographic content. Nuf said.

Houston Ballet doing Stanton Welch’s “Maninyas” – impressive company work – this piece is one of a “type” I see in contemporary ballet where the sheer force of technical prowess begins to stake a claim on the “is-ness” of the piece. The dancing itself drives the choreographic ideas as opposed to the reverse. The women in particular were placed “front” and were incredible in their strength, power, finesse… punctuated with very particular manipulations of their costumes that added to the images of female manipulation … dresses that were cut in such a way that they threw front and then back panels down and through between their legs. The dance was fast, furious, fierce… so much so that it left multiple images of attack, manipulation, and power, go by unexamined or unexplained.  For me, I was left with awe for their performance, and yet also a plethora of questions about how power play/gender/force is represented on stage? The paradigm of compliant women in the hands of men stayed consistent in this contemporary rendition of classical work, even while the women are intimidating in their hard, fast, cutting physical attitude.

Paul Taylor’s “Brandenburgs” – powerfully grounded dancers especially those women! The center of weight so clearly low, and grounded; the torso elongated and designed as a power center much more so than in the ballet tradition… Even the body “types” accentuated long torsos, wide backs, extremely open and lifted thoracic/shoulder girdle, deep plié, and so forth… And a joy to see this work again; yes, I was really struck with the emphasis placed on clear music/dance relationship, and the dancer’s commitment to their core, torso, and everything emanating from that. Why does this look dated? Why does PoMo and onward dance tend to inflect through the limbs but not the torso/spine? Why is that “dated” movement vocab? Has contemporary life so fragmented and attacked us that we must hold the torso together, and only gesture around it? Are we afraid to spiral or curve or arch lest the ground is taken away from under us?

Nrityagram “Shivashtakam” – rhythmic, precise, love that the Bharatanatyam traditions involve both “postural” language as well as gesture. In so much of western modern dance (and ballet) traditions, posture has limited range, and is not considered part of the expressive/choreographic repertoire… This dance is story telling, character referencing, narratively driven – with what I assume are well developed, sophisticated, nuanced relationships between the rhythms (core to the expression), gestures, repetitions, patterns and the story, character, meaning. Eye candy costumes… but I can’t get emotionally involved, not knowing the cues and codes and meanings, nor do I get kinesthetically empathetic, much.

San Francisco Ballet doing Hans Van Manen “Solo”. A series of solos, all men, flawless technique. What I remember loving about Van Manen’s work when I was young in London – quick, quirky, witty… very musically constructed with Bach’s violin suite No. 1.

Stephen Petronio Company “Locomotor” – I just let this one wash over and through me. It is idiosyncratic, asymmetrical, obscure in many ways – but the sense of relationship building, the dancer’s stance of generosity, authenticity – use of breath, the visual mash ups – I was just enjoying it, able to step away from an intellectual “appreciating” and go on the journey. I admire his longevity of running his company.

Dorrance Dance “Myelination” – Tap. McArthur genius. wow she’s crazy good and crazy and this was a specially commissioned piece by the festival – large large group of equally stunning dancers, a full band of great musicians – a range of different kinds of talents and styles – Choreographically felt like it could become an evening length work and this was just a first go at some ideas. It was a bit all over the place, but if each section were developed, a fantastic arc could be made. A young woman in the last section did an extraordinary, emotional, evocative tap meets Graham meets Nijinsky – beautiful use of weight, full body, drooping over crazy feet – pulling the blues out of tap in new ways.

Bill Irwin and Tiler Peck “Time It Was/116” – odd. Seemed thrown together – two stunning performers; not much to it though. Stars. Like the Sheu/Cornejo, see above.

Boston Ballet “Pas de Quatre” by Leonid Yakobson. An attractive, but not particularly interesting, to me, imagining of the original Pas de Quatre.

Jesus Carmona & Cia “Impetu”. Flamenco – solo man, with small band. He was electric and clearly top of his game technique – the speed of the footwork, the un relenting intensity. Pretty thrilling. Had to love the machismo and as I muse about “ego” and performing, he was a great example of how we need performers to have this ego. It is not a bad thing. All boats rise with the tide. We all got more alert, more quickened, more sensuous, just watching him. Thank you.

L-E-V “Killer Pig”. Gaga/Batsheva background – choreographed by Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar. I had very conflicted reaction to this piece. Loving and knowing Noa Zuk/Ohad Fishof’s work (similar background) this piece felt more gratuitous, less deeply authentic and carefully rendered than their work, and yet surprisingly similar vocabulary. Crazy sick dancers – incredible range, doggedly virtuosic, but I couldn’t help feel a lot of the work was driven by a calculated reach for certain “effect”, trying on a kind of grotesque for the sake of awe. I suspect mine is not a popular reaction – others that I talk to think so highly of this piece! Curious what people might comment here. I’d be willing to see it again as I may have just gotten skewed as I began to wonder if there’s such a thing as “gaga vocabulary” as opposed to gaga technique being a way to illicit entirely personal, original vocabulary?

Then,

At New York Live Arts I saw Rude Mechs from Austin performing “Match-Play” made with Debora Hay. More “theatre” than “dance” insofar as there was speaking/words drawing it forward, use of set and props, and an arc of a narrative, as outrageous and illogical some of that arc was. Very very fun, hot, good, generous energy of the performers – refreshing to see non dancers moving, well, and a delight for me, to see words, dancing, moving, story, prop, humor, gravitas, all at once. It’s what I want to do.

Movement Research’s Monday night at Judson Church with works by Marten Spangberg, Nora Stephens, Xan Burley and Alex Springer. Loved watching Burley and Springer. Annoyingly fantastic dancers. Just perfect in how they parsed momentum, suspension, initiation – they dance the way I experience dance – great fun with calibrating the play of gravity on the body. Choreographically their piece was bold, funny, smart. I can’t remember and don’t have notes why I thought this!

The other pieces were of the contemporary ilk that is “playing with” (hello 1960’s) notions of non performance, audience participation of sorts, non dancers doing movement, repetition, ritual – pretty appropriate sitting there in historic Judson church. But for me, not engaging. Nora Stephens ran around, someone read something into a microphone then it was over. That kind of thing. Spangberg’s piece kind of sweetly employed a large group of “regular” people – going through slow (I have no problem with slow) mirror exercises, stripping off layers of T shirts, rolling around each other. Call me a formalist but neither piece had development nor anything happen really. Maybe what irks me most about this kind of work (in visual art world too) is the self-referential nature of it, how it folds in on itself and either you’re “in” or you’re left out.

Thanks to Ty Boomershine (Columbus born and bred, Ft. Hayes graduate, teenage wunderkid danced in my company, fabulous career dancing with many in NYC and Europe), I was able to sit in on a rehearsal with Lucinda Childs Company doing a run through of “Available Light” and “Dance” as they prepared for tours to Korea and Paris. I sat with Lucinda and Meg Harper for the whole rehearsal, on the top floor big studio at Mark Morris School in Brooklyn.

I love watching rehearsals often more than on stage – there’s an immediacy, closeness, and the dancers are using a kind of imaginary that gets replaced/erased when actually performing. I’ll have to explore that idea more. “Available Light” (1983, Music J. Adams) features a Gehry designed raised platform so the dance takes place on two levels. In the studio we had to imagine that. Composed in Child’s signature way of developing patterns of traveling phrases, it was quite beautiful. The building intricacies, overlaps, and phasing of phrases, the alternations of massive dense activity and stillness, and the tracings of pathways left/right, forward/back and up/down all conspired to move me – why? Was it reaching into some inner biological patterning, like watching emotional synapses fire and re-fire?

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3 thoughts on “Performances I saw in NYC

  1. this is so rich! thank you for taking the time to chronicle these experiences. I’m really grateful for having this contemporary view of work happening in NY.

    I have so many thoughts about what you’ve written, but I’ll focus on a few here:
    -regarding both the Companhia Urbana de Danco performance and the Nrityagram “Shivashtakam,” I’m thinking about things that Marcia Siegel has written and said over the years about accounting for what we can see in movement even when we aren’t familiar with or insiders to a particular form of dance—or dance coming from a culture that we are not a part of. I too am really aware of the feeling of being an “insider” or an “outsider” to particular forms, the desire to know more, the consciousness of the fact that whatever I might see or identify may not correspond with the values of the form. I’m very aware that anything I see or notice will be coming from my own biases and backgrounds—but of course this is always the case, even in traditions or styles of dance to which I am an insider. at the same time, I love that you have still put words to the elements you did recognize.
    -I myself feel a tension when I’m watching a dance for which, as you put it, “the sheer force of technical prowess begins to stake a claim on the ‘is-ness’ of the piece.” sometimes I am seduced by the spectacle of outstanding bodies, the intensity of physical ability that they demonstrate. however, when that technical prowess or virtuosity is emphasized to the point that thoughtful or intelligent composition has been neglected, I get frustrated. for as much as I enjoy watching really skilled dancers move, I am more interested in developed compositional intentionality. really smart composition can be demonstrated by bodies with little or no technical virtuosity, and I will still be fully engaged—if the choreography is legible to me.
    -I really resonated with your description, “I couldn’t help feel a lot of the work was driven by a calculated reach for certain ‘effect’, trying on a kind of grotesque for the sake of awe.” I’ve felt that way so often when watching Butoh. I love Butoh; it is a movement home for me. but I’ve seen so much work that seems more concerned with emulating particular aesthetics of the form—the grotesque, the shocking, the makeup, etc.—rather than the density of concentration or immersive engagement with a score/idea/concept. I could call it “commitment,” but that doesn’t quite get at what I mean, and the word “authenticity” often makes me uneasy…but it’s something like both of these. in lots of the Butoh I’ve seen, that quality is not present; rather, there is the reproduction of particular elements in order to achieve the kind of “effect” you mention.
    -as I read, I found myself really interested in the “playing with” pieces at Movement Research. I definitely consider myself a formalist, and as I said above, compositional intentionality is what I think I prioritize the most as a viewer, as a scholar, and as a choreographer (I hope). I found myself wondering what a formalist description of those “playing with” pieces might reveal (not that I’m asking you to write such descriptions), because I have often had the experience, both with myself and with my students, that where at first there seemed to be not much, when I start to describe it in detail, I come to find that there is more there than maybe I saw. it’s that “writing is thinking” thing where putting words to something makes legible things that I recognized but didn’t realize that I recognized. that being said, I’ve seen plenty of pieces, mostly by young choreographers, where they seem to be “playing with” something, but it hasn’t been developed at all, and I just want to tell them, “go back to the studio, interrogate what you’ve made, and develop it further. you need to critical examine not only what you’re thinking about but also what you are doing so that you can take responsibility for what you are doing.” I’ve been there as well.

    I have so many more thoughts, but no more time to write.
    thank you again for these accounts, and for getting my mind moving around these different issues.

    Like

  2. Wonderful sharing of informed looking!!! It brought to mind the years during your childhood of our seeing every possible ‘dance’ performance. It was a genuine
    desire to broaden your vocabulary as much as possible. I am so proud of you!!

    Like

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