Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Juliana F. May’s MAYDANCE in Commentary = not thing: Nude, but not Naked

MAYDANCE in Juliana F. May’s Commentary = not thing at New York Live Arts. Photo by Ian Douglas. 

Viscera enthralls Juliana F. May. In particular, she’s preoccupied in her new piece, Commentary = not thing, by the primal urges buried deep within our guts. To ensure that audiences connect to the uncensored agitations, she configures an L-shaped assembly of chairs on the stage’s edge.  Four speakers with stately wooden bases—an installation by Brad Kisicki—dangle at varying lengths from the ceiling. Her message seems to be: Tonight, everything will be amplified.

The extraordinary and ferocious dancers of MAYDANCE—Ben Asriel, Kayvon Pourazar, and Maggie Thom—jog on stage, gesticulating emphatically. Their rabid arm actions metamorphose into a deluge of stream of conscious movement highlighting dervish-like spins and space-eating locomotion. Lower bodies pace fervently with occasional kicks, squats, and lunges relieve the frenetic roaming. It’s like watching OCD cheerleaders. Moments of rest appear sporadically; a performer will hang on the sidelines, eyeballing the others. At one point, the dancers—crowded around a table and chairs—strip to full nudity and engage in a flurry of emotionally charged nonsense dialogue.

May draws inspiration from Freud's outmoded stages of psycho-sexual development. Dancers suck their teeth. They fixate on their genitals. The group trots in a circle exploring one another’s exposed hindquarters. Eventually, the dancers migrate offstage and return fully clothed as percussive music by Chris Seeds pumps from the dangling speakers.

The piece sours as more of the same fragmented text, obsessive gesturing, and mad gallivanting occurs. The primal, pre-conscious body registers at only one temperature—mania, and the frantic thump grows monotonous.

Repetition, May’s pet choreographic conceit, converts the dancers into automatons, locked in a mechanical display of primordial tendencies externalized.  We expect to be shocked, or at least uncomfortably provoked, but the piece’s formalist constructions and uniform tenor keeps the dancers, and by extension us, from truly letting go.

This review refers to the performance seen on Friday, February 22nd at New York Live Arts.

Ronald K. Brown's Evidence, A Dance Company: Ardency in Action

Ronald K. Brown and Evidence, A Dance Company in action at The Joyce Theater. Photo by Ayodele Casel. 

Evidence, an energetic, soulful dance company captained by Ronald K. Brown, reaches out and touches us.  Brown's dances are designed to extract maximum emotion; he strives to create work that leaves a bold imprint. His powerful tool of persuasion is his presentational movement style. Nimble weight changes thrust into the floor and flexible torsos writhe and wriggle while the West African inspired steps, peppered with snippets of ballet and social dance, are exuberantly rhythmic. 

The opening piece on the A program, Order My Steps, exhibits this premise in its first moments; Solomon Dumas, in a tangerine colored tank top, strides onto the stage clutching his heart, emotion etched on his face.........................

Please visit The Dance Enthusiast to read the rest of my review of Ronald K. Brown’s Evidence, A Dance Company.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

New York City Ballet: Status Quo

Amar Ramasar and Teresa Reichlin in Peter Martins’ The Waltz Project, a part of New York City Ballet’s mixed bill program. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
New York City Ballet is in the middle of their annual winter season at the David H. Koch Theater. There are all Tchaikovsky programs, all Balanchine programs, and an upcoming The Sleeping Beauty. There is also a mixed bill program featuring a collection of B sides by the three choreographers most closely associated with New York City Ballet: George Balanchine, the father; Peter Martins, the anointed son; and Jerome Robbins, the brilliant eccentric.

NYCB is long associated with good, often great, dancing. The current corps de ballet brims with eager, talented young things who emphatically hit their marks and perform at the top of their physical limits. Their gifts are most evident in the evening’s last piece, Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2, an ode to Petipa and the stylistic formalities of Imperial style ballet.  The dancers—attired in frothy peach confections for the ladies and billowing ivory tunics and tights for the men—parade in circles and stream diagonally across the stage facilely performing academic movements that highlight their pristine technique rigorously honed for years at School of American Ballet.

You may wish that they could lose some of that good technique in Jerome Robbins’ N.Y Export: Opus Jazz, second on the program. A calling card of 1950’s cool, kids—it’s impossible to think of them in any other way—sport baggy tops and sneakers in happy colors paired with an insouciant attitude. Snapping their fingers, the sixteen dancers perform a pastiche of early jazz steps like sliding runs and parallel legged pirouettes peppered with social dancing moves from Mambo and Swing. Robert Prince’s jazz-inflected score and Ben Shahn’s groovy backdrops conspire to create a moody ambiance that ranges from effervescent to brooding. The result is more square than hip though as the dancers can’t quite drop their weight and relax their shoulders enough to capture the Beatnik zeitgeist. Taylor Stanley, with his impish grin, seems to best embody the piece’s jaunty sangfroid.

Audiences often show up to witness NYCB’s impressive stable of principal dancers perform. If only Peter Martins’ The Waltz Project, the opening number, could satisfy their hankering. Martins gives the impression that he choreographs out of duty, not because he feels compelled to express something meaningful through dance. Waltzes by twentieth century composers, played live by pianist Cameron Grant, accompany eight duets danced by four couples with one exclamatory finale. Jerky and angular, the acrobatic choreography—limbs whack every which way— does little to evoke or even comment on the waltz, a dance that sweeps and circles around the floor in a close embrace. Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, the sassy couple, punctuate their hip bumps and sinuous ripples with liberated cheek while Teresa Reichlen and Amar Ramasar struggle through the laborious gymnastics of partnered splits, flips, and beastly lifts.

It’s a nice enough night; the dancing is solid and the pieces varied in tenor, yet it highlights a hunch that New York City Ballet acts as little beyond a depository for twentieth century choreography and technique.  Martins espouses the importance of new choreography but consistently promotes dance-makers trained in the Balanchine style. This creates an impasse: The dancing looks good and the audiences recognize the influences, but the choreography often operates as a rehash of ideas already examined. It’s been awhile since New York City Ballet has had a reliable hit-maker and the lack of fresh blood shows. Challenging the dancers with outside influences may re-energize many of these works stuck in mid-century America. Otherwise, it seems entirely possible that in five, ten, twenty years, you could see this same show and nothing will have changed.

This review refers to the performance seen on Tuesday, February 5th.