Brilliant Solos, Tender Duets

Smaller works shine at Dancenow’s Base Camp at Dance Theater Workshop

If you’re looking for lithe bodies moving in space, you will find them. If you’re looking for expressions of joy, grief, love, rock ‘n roll, and childlike imagination, you will find them, too. And if you’re looking for new choreographic voices emerging in young, practiced, and well-established dance makers, you will find them all at Dancenow/NYC, the homegrown fall dance festival of local companies and performers.

The “Base Camp” performance at Dance Theater Workshop on Friday, September 8 was exemplary of the festival’s success in fulfilling its promise to the public and the performance community—providing an opportunity for everyone to show and to see quality New York dance.

What set this particular program apart from others is that everyone was dancing, moving with their entire bodies through the space. The strongest of the works were two very different duets and two impeccable solos.

Keely Garfield showed “Line and Sink Her,” an excerpt of a work in progress with a beautiful live version of “Amazing Grace” sung and played on harmonium by Keith Borden. As an uncompleted work, it’s not for review, but it was a perfect refinement of Garfield’s self-conscious gesture, detached poise, and quirky graceful line nonetheless; it takes great skill and guts to convey such humanity.

More surprising was Paul Matteson’s gratifying excerpt from “Block Idol,” which closed the show with laughter and lightness. An exercise in object-oriented tasking where the object takes over, Matteson worked his powerful performer charms here, playing the role of the curious child, piling up blue foam core blocks in one precarious tower, making dramatic gestures at it, undressing around it, dressing it in his shirt, and—after building and painstakingly climbing a short, slightly squishy staircase—finally shuffling off unsteadily on two of them, as he collected the remnants of his fallen idol.

Aoi Nishimura’s duet “The Last Answer,” for herself and Ryoji Sasamoto to sweet music by Sigur Ros offered a powerfully sentimental rendering of endless love, danced with exceptional prowess. Sharp and fast movement, simple visual images, and smart lighting by Julie Ana Dobo—who lit everything—enhanced this dramatic dream of a distraught lover visited by his dearly departed; and they danced.

“Breakfast With You” might not have been the closer, but it stole the show, and rightfully so. Choreographed by Chris Elam and performed with Jocelyn Tobias to music by Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen, this duet displays the awkward coupling of two loving klutzes. What makes it work is the absolute realness that both performers bring to their roles; they’re not pretending to be nerds, they really are. In the array of off-kilter interactions, mothering and not-so-mothering lifts, private motifs, and unison dancing that goes in and out of synch along with the voices of Collins and Cohen, precious fleeting moments of elegant beauty emerge; two ugly ducklings can make golden eggs.

Of the group works, Milka Djordjevich’s “An Official Picture History” had the most original choreographic vision. Dressed in tennis skirts and shirts and khakis, Benjamin Asriel, Rose Calucchia, Alex Samets, Enrico Wey, and the charismatic Djordjevich enacted a kind of youthful angst at the yacht club scenario, to rowdy music by Glenn Branca. Between group lineups, thrumming at the sidelines, individuals took turns enacting short repetitive gestural phrases standing in place; these seemed functional but served no purpose. Images and arrangements repeated with variation, making for a smart and satisfying piece of work.

Kyle Abraham’s “It Is Within Our Likeness of Being” featured fine dancing in a tender and sensuous display of lovers embracing—men with men, women with women. The choice of music, a breathy new age score, undermined this work, even if—or maybe because—it matched its tone.

Similarly, Christian Von Howard’s “Turbulence,” a lush and well-structured piece with another group of superb dancers, wasn’t helped by its score, an Eastern, tabla-based composition by Kodo that worked against the flowing movement vocabulary. When the group introduced some stomping footwork that drew inspiration from the music, the choreography seemed to break out and find its own voice, but it was short-lived.

Eliot Feld meets Alvin Ailey in “Light Is Calling,” a quintet by Sidra Bell that used Michael Gordon’s music for a diva drama dance in shiny purple slit koolats and black knee socks. “Danger,” by Mark Gindick and Tara O’Con with music by Janet Jackson, was a live rock and roll video for a four-eyed geek and two exotic dancers. Daniela Hoff offered an excerpt from “Beneath the Skin,” a facile female sextet; and Alissa Cardone’s enigmatic trio “root tropic” provided the lone texty work of the evening. The concert opened with Jen Nugent’s “Semi Formal,” in which she rearranged her dress on her arching, swiveling body in several ways, facing away from the audience until the end.

Dancenow/NYC continues at Joe’s Pub at The Public Theater September 14 – 16 at 9:30 p.m. with the DancemOpolitan series, featuring 30 dancemakers in three different cabaret performance events, hosted by choreographer Leigh Garrett.

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