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Paul Matteson & Friends in Concert

'Rustytime,' 'Step Touch,' 'I Simply Live Now'

by Preeti Vasudevan

April 29-30, 2004 -- Symphony Space Thalia Dance Series, New York

Contemporary dance choreography (the word, contemporary meaning ‘that which is of today’) reflects an individual’s artistic journey influenced by multiple socio-cultural phenomena in a global society. This journey is a personal inquiry that is different from its predecessors, the modern and postmodern movements, both of which developed identifiable and structured forms to revolutionize the arts of their times. Contemporary works today do not necessarily seek to change the larger community, but instead reveal the struggles of the individual in a fast and product-driven world. However, engulfed by the craze to churn out quick commodities to please the consumer, many emerging choreographers settle for less research time and more quick fixes to gain the attention of the market-savvy producer.

In this current trend of making new statements, it is refreshing to see a young choreographer still questioning his journey and choosing intimate spaces to bring the audience closer to his process – his journey.

Paul Matteson and his partners, Jennifer Nugent and Joseph Poulson, are the emerging faces of New York ’s contemporary dancers who already have a following as teachers and performers both in the city and other parts of the country. So as I walked into the intimate Symphony Space’s Thalia Café, it was no surprise finding the venue filled with young, enthusiastic dancers waiting to learn even more from the performers' kinesthetic and informed bodies.

As the title of the concert suggested, the shared evening was one where the choreographers were clearly supporting each other. As the audience trickled in, Allison Leyton-Brown improvising on her piano brought the feeling of arriving at a friendly gathering.

The first piece titled "Rustytime," was created by Joseph Poulson and performed by both Matteson and Heather McArdle. The attraction to contradictions between McArdle's spoken word and Matteson's movement revealed a love-hate relationship between her funny (and at times crude) pet names and his responses to them. The music by Chet Baker somehow seemed a bit irrelevant when so much information was exchanged between words and movement. A process of fine-tuning and editing, including clarity and use of space, will help bring out the humor.

The second piece, "Step Touch" was choreographed and performed by Matteson and Jennifer Nugent. Two highly energetic dancers with an equally vibrant energy between them took the stage through shock waves of tightly bound feelings sparked off by the intimate pas de deux. Matched in music by Christopher Lancaster (cello) and Allison Leyton-Brown (piano), there was a constant feeling of two competitive duets claiming their individual space. Both dancers' struggle to maintain a false formality revealed the process that reached a collaborative peak. The piece revealed many references… life of couples, classical duets, and competitive peers…. While the struggle was definite, the humor at times seemed more dramatic than natural. Juxtaposing seriousness with humor is like a walking a tight rope without a net. The fragility of the piece can be teased out even more to reveal a greater sense of intimacy and honesty between the dancers.

"I Simply Live Now" choreographed by Peter Schmitz and performed by Matteson was an account of a person struggling with time and an arduous personal journey. Matteson’s dancing in this piece exposed a vulnerable quality less divulged in his previous dances. To see a dancer in a fragile moment is to experience direct communication between observer and performer. This method breaks all formal rules and grammar of structured dance. It is true and honest even if just for one moment. The solo communicated Matteson’s search for his true identity, which at times matched the character in the text. The question in the end was whether he would survive his struggle or simply disintegrate into the system.

The evening had many positive openings for contemporary expressions. However, in performance more thought needs to be given to detailing in choice of choreographing in a non-studio space. The costuming, lighting and music need more research to match the detailing of movement creation for specific spaces.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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