Friday, September 28, 2012

DELIRIOUS Dances' To Begin The World Over Again: Your Participation Is Required

DELIRIOUS Dances performs To Begin The World Over Again. Photo by Julie Lemberger. 

Does this contentious election season have you down? Are you frustrated by the endless partisan bickering and political mud slinging?

Edisa Weeks, artistic director and choreographer of DELIRIOUS Dances, has the antidote. Her lively new pieceTo Begin The World Over Again, in residence at Brooklyn’s Irondale Center through October 6th—investigates the musings of Thomas Paine and his vigorous promotion for freedom and democracy.

The piece opens with a bribe. Acting as the ringleader, Michael Henry, sporting the iconic red tie of a politician, exchanges fortune cookies for assurances that your cell phone is off. Nestled in the treats lies a scrap of paper featuring a quote by Thomas Paine.  Democracy tastes sweet.

Weeks has a marvelous ally in composer Joseph C. Phillips Jr. With the energetic Numinous Music providing live accompaniment, Weeks’ premise takes aural shape. Hand claps, hoofing rhythms, and folk-inspired melodies reference the venerable past while atonality and dissonance speak to our conflicted present. Haunting vocals, resounding with ruminations from Paine’s writings, accentuate Phillips’ riveting score.  

Choreographically, Weeks keeps it simple. She opts for straightforward movements—lots of running, gazelle leaps, log rolls, and loping patterns—from a standard modern dance vocabulary.  To Begin The World All Over Again unfolds in sections, some featuring the dancers, others highlighting the music, with occasional forays into literal demonstrations of democracy at work.  In one instance, Henry, charmingly strident, rounds up the performers for a dance-off. You vote with your applause for the dancer’s performance that best represents your values. By the slimmest of margins, victory goes to Sharifa Linton for her generous smile and gripping solo.

The six dancers, loose-limbed and liberated movers, sometimes forgo technique for spirit. But this freedom from physical restraints only underscores the dancers’ performance, which is enthralling. They commit fervently; when they leap and fling their bodies to the floor, it’s executed with a blind trust that is deeply affecting.

Democracy requires participation, so when the dancers invite you out to the performance space, don’t balk. The audience and the cast dance, stroll hand-in-hand, and even strut their way through a soul train line. Hokey? Perhaps. Fun? Definitely! In the finale everyone performs an American Sign Language version of “We Have It In Our Power”; it’s impossible not to be moved.

To Begin The World All Over Again is a call to action. Weeks’ earnest insistence on community, participation, and cooperation stands as a timely reminder that democracy requires a variety of voices to succeed.  More importantly, it needs your voice.  So get inspired. Get involved. And go see To Begin The World All Over Again. 

This review refers to the Thursday, September 27th performance.

******Coinciding with the performances of To Begin The World Over Again, are a series of FREE community events coordinated

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Ephrat Asherie's A Single Ride: You've Taken This Train

   Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie’s A Single Ride. Photo by Demetrius Fordham.
A Single Ride, the multimedia result of Ephrat “Bounce” Asherie’s commission from Dixon Place, plumbs the subway and its many colorful peculiarities for inspiration.

The piece opens with a video featuring a male, baseball cap set at a jaunty angle, break-dancing his way through Penn Station.  With an empty Metro card and a fast approaching train, he opts to jump the turnstile. Just as he’s about to fail and hit the bar, a dancer dives from offstage into the linked arms of two performers, replicating the on-screen protagonist’s slam into a cold, metal barrier. It’s a nifty visual trick; our focus switches from the video to the dancing.

In A Single Ride, Asherie constructs choreographic episodes juxtaposing the dancers against an electronic montage of empty cars, train tracks, and subway stations.  The continuously playing video designed by David Bengali—a stand-alone work of beauty—emphasizes bright, sharp, and shiny shots that look like hard candy. When the dancers move, which may not be as often as you like, it’s a mish-mash of hard-hitting break dancing moves intermingled with posing, strutting, and raw partnering.  

A score composed by Marty Beller, drummer for They Might Be Giants, captures the animated vigor found in the human flood that swells the subway system daily. Poppy and populist but never condescending, Beller engineers addictive rhythms that make your toes tap.

The six performers take on the subway’s typical characters: crazy people, sick people, perverted people, annoying people, homeless people, singing people, scary people, smelly people, and so forth.  You smile in commiseration as the simulation of a tightly packed train affords cheeky performer Richard Maguire the opportunity to cop surreptitious feels from unsuspecting females.  

Periodically, A Single Ride feels like a public service announcement. Visibly pregnant dancer MiRi Park squeezes through a row of seated audience members. She stands and rubs her belly as they squirm in discomfort. No one stands up for what’s right tonight.

Asherie is at her best when she highlights the dreamy tedium of subway riding.  Alone in a crowd, the dancers lazily somersault and meltingly sprawl across the darkened stage as their electronic versions tumble across the video screen. Getting to where you’re going never looked so beautiful.

A Single Ride amuses with its familiarity. You know these people. You are these people. But Asherie never taps into anything deeper than stereotypes and obvious clichés. An Asian lady hawks DVDs for “five dollah” and you snicker knowingly. But what’s the purpose beyond a guaranteed laugh? Asherie replicates without commenting.  

Unfortunately, like your morning commute, A Single Ride never goes anywhere you haven’t already been.

This review refers to the performance seen on Thursday, September 20th.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Eclipse: Seeing The Light, Not Feeling It

Jonah Bokaer (pictured) collaborates with Anthony McCall in Eclipse. Photo by Stephanie Berger.

BAM’s Richard B. Fisher building kicks off its inaugural season with Eclipse, a collaborative performance and installation by visual artist Anthony McCall and choreographer Jonah Bokaer.  The theater, the Fishman Space, features varied seating arrangements and $20 tickets. A welcome addition to the New York performing arts scene, the Fishman Space is a well-appointed auditorium with good sight lines and comfortable seats that promises to be a fine space for art-makers of all stripes.

Bokaer seems like an auspicious artist to capture the possibilities of the Fisher Space. A former dancer with Merce Cunningham, he has accrued multiple awards for an artistic portfolio, which runs the gamut from traditional dance works to cutting-edge, motion-capture pieces. Eclipse opens with a personal solo for Bokaer. He effortlessly navigates McCall’s obstacle course of three-dozen, dangling light bulbs utilizing spoked limbs, brisk traveling phrases, and precipitous body tips.  Although he never touches the bulbs, they burst into brightness after Bokaer performs arcane, gestural machinations near them. It’s beautiful.

One, two, three, and finally four performers glide into the dance area, a square with a floor of felted carpet. Sporting white button-down dress shirts with workaday slacks and black socks, the dancers, preoccupied and absorbed with something beyond the audience’s ken, wander and wend their way through the bulbs as white noise buzzes. Unexpectedly, the lights die as the rumbles of automotive machines permeate the auditorium. When several of the bulbs relight, Bokaer has vanished. The performers, one man and two women, perform movements that may remind you of liquefied martial arts, while the remaining man, the spirited Tal Adler-Arieli, ups the intensity with a critical vehemence.

It’s unfortunate that after such a strong start, it’s rinse, repeat for the next forty minutes. The piece follows a circular logic. After each blackout, the torch of fervent dancing passes to a new individual while the others stride, stare, casually pose, and occasionally connect with each other. Long after your attention has started to wander, Bokaer returns and snuffs out the lights, indicating the ending. The best section highlights the lustrous Sara Procopio. Lying on the floor, she and her three companions, engage in a hypnotic movement phrase that surrenders to gravity’s pull. Only Procopio subverts it.

Eclipse entertains in the beginning. The interplay between lights, shadows, and shade stimulate the imagination while the dancers, spines so straight that they appear to be standing upright even when bent over, offer committed performances never lagging in energy or focus. 

Problems originate with Bokaer’s choreographic choices. He creates upper body motions that emphasize gestural innovation but gives the legs little to do. Feet seem stuck shoulder-width apart. While limbs may occasionally flick to the side or pull in tightly, Bokaer prefers the placement of a standard walking pace. Due to the vertical nature of the lights juxtaposed against the dancers’ unswerving backbones, the banality becomes apparent.

But the choreography isn’t the reason why you will leave unsatisfied.  It’s because you will not be invited to follow the dancers’ complex, emotional journey.  Although a dramaturge is listed in the program credits, ostensibly to coax meaningful performances from the cast, emotions never outshine the bulbs. You feel like you are looking through a window at someone's story.  It’s a deep and important one. But it’s for them. Not you.

This review refers to the performance seen on Sunday, September 9th.