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Maxine Steinman & Dancers -- Harkness Dance Festival

by Juliet Neidish

February 22-26, 2006 -- Ailey Citicorp Theatre at the Joan Weill Center for Dance, NYC

Maxine Steinman & Dancers was the third of five companies comprising this season’s Harkness Dance Festival in New York City.  The 92nd Street Y was excited to be presenting this series in the new Ailey Citicorp Theater at the Joan Weill Center for Dance.  This beautiful, recently inaugurated dance space is housed in the Alvin Ailey school complex.  It is thrilling to now find several new performing venues in New York City after witnessing the struggles and/or demise of so many rehearsal studios, theaters, dance companies, and schools in the past decade.   

Steinman’s evening consisted of two premieres and two repertory pieces performed by seven dancers and herself.  Depending on the piece, she collaborated with musician, sculptor, costumer, and video artist.  Steinman’s main influence seems to be the choreography and technique of Jose Limon, for which she is a prominent teacher.  The word that best describes her work is “sensuous,” and each piece on the program was a focused glimpse into a stage moment of a particular personal relationship.

Opening with “…still we sit,” co-choreographed with company member Raymundo Costa, Steinman took her inspiration from a poem entitled, “Tide,” by John Fuller.  The short piece was an atmospheric duet for Steinman and Columbine Macher.  The couple, dressed in similar and very beautiful long, white dresses, danced primarily in synchrony to the sonorous sound of Henryk Gorecki. 

The piece achieved a rich sense of longing and mystery through the fluid reachings and enclosings of these two figures, aided by the cotton, tulle, and ruffles of the dresses, as they intertwined with the dancers’ flowing shoulder-length hair.  The aesthetic ambience was complemented by a backdrop of a glowing sky and a circle of simple, white origami boats.

“Let Go,” to the music of Arvo Part, seemed to be the companion piece to “…still we sit.”  It was also a peek into relationships in progress, but here, Steinman upped the ante by adding a third figure.  Three men comprised this vision of fluidity in which two of the figures related sensitively through synchronous movement, while the third figure danced alone.  The pairings and lone figure kept shifting as the dance continued.  The arc in both of these pieces was seamless and muted, as if under water, and Steinman formed her choreography to closely parallel the swells, ebbs, and flow of the musical selections, which supported her use of synchrony.

The last two pieces were both premieres.  I hope Steinman will continue to refine them, because although they each have wonderful moments, they are not yet as strongly crafted as the older ones.  “Rockwell Unraveled” was a stylistic departure from the other three pieces on the program.  In it, Steinman attempts to take apart the neat, stereotypic face of the notorious Norman Rockwell painting.  As the painting comes alive for us, we begin to see Steinman’s own interpretation of the underlying relationships in the otherwise static painting that generations of Americans have come to know. 

She succeeded in setting up a unique and legible set of relationships between mother/son, father/daughter, and sister/brother.  Her dancers were apt at portraying their roles within the choreography.  The stage was cleverly littered with bits of the clutter of domestic life.  This was a good start, but unfortunately, the piece remained theatrically static.  There were hints of humor and hints of darkness.  Perhaps the next step would be to commit to one of those paths and develop it fully, or even possibly to re-work of the piece to include a stronger reading of both.The lengthy “Window Stories” tended to lose its dramatic cogency.  The strong, choreographic sections were often interspersed with lengthy unfocussed passages of movement.  The opening solo performed powerfully by Tomomi Imai remains etched in my memory.  However, in the long run, the power of other beautiful, sensitive passages was diffused by the ambling structure of the piece. 

Also, when the video was featured by itself, the theatricality was inhibited.  “Window Stories” could either be crystallized into a much shorter piece, or refigured and redirected with less focus on generating material and more on theatrical development.  All in all, the dancers performed fully andbeautifully, and succeeded in supporting each other as well as the conception of Ms. Steinman’s work.     

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