Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Composer's Voice: Hear and See Tomorrow, Today


PUBLIQuartet provides live accompaniment for contemporary composers and choreographers at the Composer's Voice concert. Photo by Ryan Scherb.

There are lots of cool events happening in New York City. Here’s one you should go see. The Composer’s Voice Concert Series—a collaboration between Vox Novus, Remarkable Theatre Brigade, and Jan Hus Church—dedicates itself to producing short chamber performances featuring an eclectic range of contemporary composers performed by devoted musicians.  In this season’s opener, Composer’s Voice, now in its twelfth year, teams up with Vision of Sound, a cooperative effort between music-makers and dance-makers, and PUBLIQuartet, a groovy strings foursome, to create a lively afternoon devoted to contemporary music and movement.

The first work pairs Mark Olivieri’s Move, an enchanting two-part composition, with a solo performance by choreographer and dancer Melanie Aceto. Aceto—a whisper thin female clad in a black, cropped jumpsuit—crafts swirling, circling wheels that reel around the shabbily beautiful Jan Hus Church. She’s an octopus improvising at the altar of dance. During the second section, Aceto intensifies her speed, spinning in endless twirls like a bewitched Dervish whirling. While not choreographically complex, Aceto’s instinctive approach captures the timeless ecstasy of moving one’s body to music.

Next, composer Doug Opel presents a diverting opus, Rite of an Appalachian Bolero….from Mars, played with élan by PUBLIQuartet. Opel draws from varied influences such as industrial metal to Ravel and Stravinsky. Joe Celej, with performers Liz Beres and Lauren Garson, choreographs an intriguing exploration of the ways body weight helps and hinders others' actions. This threesome captures your attention immediately; their starting position depicts a dancer in a determined crouch, hoisted high in the air by her two colleagues. The dancers pass, share, grapple, and succumb to the burden of one, sometimes two bodies, regarding and disregarding each other. The piece ends nearly the way it starts; in a different corner, one dancer stooped and supported by the others, indicating the cycle commences anew.

Can you love a mess? You bet! Hannah Seidel, a new choreographic voice with a well-considered movement vocabulary, wields Robert Paterson’s intricate and unsettling String Quartet No. 1 to forge a compelling trio between Courtney Drasner, Brigid Gillis, and herself. Seidel begins strongly; the three women start upstage, curled into fetal positions. They roll, kick, and slide always returning to their coiled comfort; this threesome cooperates in conflict. Although Seidel boasts some absorbing notions, many of them founder due to her choice of a trio.  This arrangement only allows for a few configurations: one against two, unison, and asynchronous. Paterson’s score is long and your eye tires of watching the same formations materialize and dissolve.  The piece may be a tedious jumble at times, but Seidel’s choreography worms its way into your memory.

Forget the old guard and their well-worn standards. Composer’s Voice presents the music of tomorrow, today.  While only some performances include dance; concerts are free, and you will only relish spending an hour listening to innovative works by contemporary composers. See you in two weeks.

This review refers to the performance seen on Sunday, August 26th at 1PM.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

SMUIN Ballet: Lots of Teeth, No Bite

SMUIN Ballet performs Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World. Photo by David Allen.

SMUIN Ballet, a contemporary ballet company based in San Francisco, has a puppy dog desire to be liked. Fresh-faced and wide-eyed dancers mug, grin, and grimace their way through three pieces, with the ultimate goal being to win your affection. 

Hearty smiles, and other face-pulling machinations, begin in the first and weakest offering—Trey McIntyre’s Oh, Inverted World. McIntyre, a seasoned choreographer, seems to be having a bit of a midlife crisis. Oh, Inverted World depicts a tedious, meandering slog through the trials and tribulations of adolescence to dreary, jangly music by The Shins, an indie pop outfit. Four men—chests bared and clad in small shorts of red or blue—and four women—sporting swingy, sparkly tops and soft ballet slippers—take you through the well-trod territory of teenage angst: first love, friendship, bullying, alienation, and rejection. There’s no narrative; instead, McIntrye links passages of undistinguished contemporary class vocabulary (think multi-rotational turns done on a low half pointe and hands that constantly touch the body) with occasional forays into the literal. At one point, a dancer crouches on the floor and shakes her fists heavenward in a textbook display of frustration. Interesting ideas emerge but never develop. A pas de trois stressing innovative lifts and unusual body connections is abruptly jettisoned in favor of a solo performance with high kicks and quick turns. These kids could be cool, but in McIntyre’s hands, their adolescent concerns just seem boring.

Medea, choreographed by the late Michael Smuin in 1977, relates the well-known Greek tragedy by Euripides.  Don’t worry if you don’t know the story; Smuin eschews subtlety for an over-the-top, play-by-play interpretation. Medea unfolds like a silent movie: cloaks billow, smoke swirls, daggers plunge, and dancers are reduced to two-dimensional, cardboard cutouts. Some nice classical ballet choreography appears, but you might be too distracted by the exaggerated, hyperbolic performances to notice. The dancers twist their faces into whimpering scowls and malevolent leers worthy of hammy soap opera actors. It's not high art but it is good, campy fun.  

The final piece, Soon These Two Worlds with choreography by Amy Seiwert, features a herd of twelve men and women cavorting to African inspired tracks by Kronos Quartet. Seiwert, choreographer in residence at SMUIN Ballet, fashions staunchly classical ballet phrases with intermittent ventures into clever, tricky arm and hand gestures. Erin Yarbrough and Jared Hunt, starring dancers in the third of four sections, best capture the breezy, effervescent spirit while the rest, lips splayed in toothy grins, overexert themselves for what is nothing more than a jaunty, pleasant ball of fluff.

Soon These Two Worlds underscores the problem with SMUIN Ballet’s program.  They seem so concerned with providing wholesome, easily digestible fare that it’s impossible to get excited. You wish they would take some choreographic and performative risks. You wish the dancers would stop pulling faces and allow their bodies to tell the story. Most of all, you wish that they didn’t care what you thought, and just did what they wanted. 

This review refers to the 2PM, August 18th performance at The Joyce.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

So You Think You Don’t Know Anything About Dancing

Henri Matisse, Dance 1, 1909

When I tell you I write a dance blog, you think it’s cool. But you won’t read it because you think you don’t know anything about dancing. 

Why do you think you need to know something about dance to read a blog? We are all know-it-alls about things we know nothing at all.

What makes dancing different? Is it the esoteric combination of music, movement, sets, and costume design? Is it because you sit in a darkened theater with people who are sometimes presumptuous and arrogant? Do you instinctively believe Curt Sach’s* assertion, “Dance, in its essence, is simply life on a higher level”. Perhaps you think you are unworthy? Or, perhaps you think you are too worthy?

Who knows? And frankly, who cares?

This is the truth: you know more than you think. Trust your instinct. You have the same tool a dancer has: a body. You use it every day.  Efficiently, effectively, gracefully.

Here are the eight basic actions of dance**: floating, gliding, punching, slashing, dabbing, wringing, flicking, and pressing. Ponder them for a moment. What action do you use when you dial a phone number? How about when you hail a cab? That’s right. You dance every day!

Dance is many things. Sometimes it’s beautiful. Sometimes it’s ugly. Sometimes it’s thought-provoking. Sometimes it goes on-and-on. Sometimes it's all of that and more. Whatever you think, it’s legitimate. Even if you’re wrong, you’re right. Because it is art. And art is subjective.  Your pretty is my hideous. The real beauty? Well, that exists in the witnessing.

So don’t sweat it. Let it wash over you. Or, watch it intently. Count the number of turns they do. Estimate how high they jump. Or don’t. The point is that there doesn’t have to be a point. Dancing, like living, is a verb. Just participate. In whatever way that makes sense to you.

Here’s the deal: dance needs you! Attend our shows, read our blogs, come to our Swing dance classes. What we do is ephemeral. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

So tune in. Buy a ticket. Watch a Youtube video. Get up and DANCE at that wedding. 

It will only make you happy.

*Sachs wrote History of the Dance.  
 **As defined by Rudolf Laban.