Ladies Night in Williamsburg

Innovation is afoot with a Brooklyn-based troupe of dancers

Named after the great capital city of Mesopotamia, Ur, the modest studio space in Williamsburg, is the performance laboratory that multi-talented choreographer/performers Karinne Keithley and Chris Yon established on New Year’s Day 2003.

“We wanted our palace,” Keithley explained.

Essentially a time-share with Darrah Carr and Barbara Mahler, the space serves as a home base where they can develop and present innovative new work that Keithley aptly calls “weird narrative––understated and mellow––that is not really dance theater.”

“There is something specific between what Chris and I are doing, a new vocabulary, a new way of making work,” she said.

The two artists met while working together on a piece of Ann Carlson’s and became fast friends.

“As Chris puts it,” Keithley said, “he’s the president of my fan club, and I’ve had to take out a restraining order.”

But the exchange is multi-directional. Keithley, at the time of this writing, was in Pennsylvania at Kirkland Farm, Robin Staff’s place, working on Yon’s new work. Keithley is the sound designer for the piece, working with “assemblage and mutation.” She is also serving as dramaturge, “although,” she confessed, “he won’t tell me anything about the piece.”

What we do know is that it is a duet with Taryn Griggs that will be shown at LaMama at the end of March.

Keithley and Yon are also committed to their performers, and to the idea of artistic exchange.

“We are trying to make Ur communal,” said Keithley, “There are not really many resources, but we want to be able to support the work of our peers.”

UrCOUSINS, a residency program, was designed with the goal of providing overlapping rehearsal slots for different artists. Lady UrSTIVAL is an outgrowth of that. It is, as Keithley puts it, “a great convergence of ladies.”

The original intention was to have a showing of the works being created at Ur by UrCOUSINS Eleanor Bauer and Sara Smith. Then it became clear that Faye Driscoll, who recently moved to San Francisco, would be in New York as would Jessica Fuddim, newly transplanted from San Francisco, and recent Hollins grad Isabel Lewis. To cap it off, Keithley saw Ursula Eagly’s piece “with unicorn and overhead projector” at One Arm Red in DUMBO, felt that the work was “in the mode,” and invited her as well.

On the program, Smith will present “Dame,” danced by Keithley, set to a sound collage of “silver screen dames.” Two members from the Sisters of the Fancy Stitch Machine Uke Orkestra will also sing sweetly, as will Lady Urstival herself, who just might be another Ur co-founder in drag.

The fact that the ladies event is happening on Keithley’s 29th birthday is coincidental, but made more significant by the fact that it is also Dick Cheney’s birthday. According to Keithley, an astrology coffee table book says January 30 is ‘take charge’ day, more than enough justification for pulling these artists together.

For her own part, Keithley will present a tree dance that she made in UrCOUSINS residency last spring.

“A living forest of lovely ladies,” Keithley called it. The dance is from a piece called “Tenderenda,” which she described as “a sideways fairytale version of the Cabaret Voltaire work ‘Tenderenda’ by Hugo Ball.”

Composed and performed between 1914 and 1920, “Tenderenda the Fantast” surveys the degraded nature of the modern world through a variety of imaginary landscapes populated with strange and memorable characters. In Keithley’s adaptation, which was presented at Ur last spring in a workshop version, a bear has this book in its possession. Her full, completed work will be presented at some lucky presenter’s venue in the fall of 2004. Until then, come to Ur and see something different, something new, something good.

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