'Six Degrees of Separation'
University Settlement – Speyer Hall
New York, New York
August 8, 2014
“Three Duets on Obsession” – 1000 Virtues Dance
“The Closing at the End” – Angie Moon Dance Theatre
“A Slender Song for Mother Shipton” – Crooked Mouth
“Ringer” – Inclined Dance Project
“Force of Circumstance” – Kennedy Dancers
“Actions Leave Traces” – Six Degrees Dance
-- by Jerry Hochman
‘Six Degrees of Separation’ is the collective title of a program of dances by different emerging companies, organized by Cecly Placenti, founder and director of Six Degrees Dance (and a colleague/reviewer at CriticalDance). This is the third incarnation (and the first I’ve seen) of what has become an annual event in which Ms. Placenti invites a choreographer to participate in the performance, who in turn invites another, until six companies, Ms. Placenti’s and five others, are chosen, each of which is a degree separate from Ms. Placenti. It sounds like a strange way to organize a program – but it’s probably not much different from the way similar group programs are put together.
As in prior years, Ms. Placenti asked each choreographer to present a dance based on a common theme, which this year is ‘obsession’. Although one choreographer/company failed to get the thematic message, each of the dances displayed interesting work. I found the pieces by Ms. Placenti and Kristen Klein to be the most finely honed, but all demonstrated varying degrees of merit.
I’ve admired the work of Kristen Klein’s Inclined Dance Project previously, and “Ringer,” the fourth dance on the program, solidifies my opinion. While the piece doesn’t feature what I previously described as Ms. Klein’s ‘core’ choreographic style (more angular than lyrical, with a ‘twitchy’ quality), I also observed that, to her credit, she doesn’t impose that style orthodoxly. Although that ‘style’ is absent here, Ms. Klein has again crafted a piece of visual interest that makes choreographic and thematic sense.
Based on the program note, “Ringer” is an exploration of duality and the interaction between alternate personas. Fine: a simplistic description of different aspects of one personality, demonstrating the continuing struggle between the two – the ‘obsession’ being the preoccupation with that duality, and perhaps the struggle of one persona to be dominant. Ms. Klein doesn’t get down to ‘duality’ business immediately, preferring to provide a choreographic baseline first – a good choice. Four dancers, Christina Chelette, Chie Mukai, Morgana Phlaum, and Ms. Radcliffe appear and take positions. One alone at the center, Ms. Mukai, is eventually approached by another, and then joined by the other two. Her essentially lyrical movement flows as one dancer, then another, one pair then another, or all four move in and out of focus. Except in two respects, the movement rarely seems repetitive – though of course it is – because of Ms. Klein’s skill at weaving movement together to create texture. The exceptions are the depictions of the duality of the dancing pairs, which is highlighted by skillfully repeating visual motifs (by which I mean that Ms. Klein doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with the fact that they’re ‘motifs’): Ms. Phlaum and Ms. Radcliffe lean against each other, heads together (almost as if preparing to wrestle), and Ms. Mukai lifts and carries Ms. Chelette until the latter is freed to be her own person (or persona). It’s a beautifully executed little piece, both choreographically and as performed by Ms. Klein’s accomplished and engaging dancers.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Placenti’s piece (choreographed by her in collaboration with her dancers), which closed the evening, was the most polished of the program. For a piece that isn’t at all ‘classical” (though its movement quality is lyrical and balletic), “Actions Leave Traces” is structured classically, in two dimensions. It’s divided into three sub-parts (a brief exposition involving the four women, a duet, and a dénouement of sorts), and three character groups: a protagonist (Ms. Placenti), acompelling, moving force (Or Reitman), and three women (Rebecca Ross, Rachel Russell, and Ms. Klein) who serve as a combination conscience, personality fragments, and a mini Greek chorus of sorts. Ms. Placenti doesn’t waste the viewer’s time with extraneous movement for movement’s sake – she makes her point, and stops – the ‘point’ being the protagonist’s relationship with the man who draws her in, draws her out, drives her away, and obsessively drives her thoughts.
The piece begins with the women in a ‘diamond-shaped’ form (I doubt that this was her intent, but if ‘actions leave traces,’ and the traces are indelible…diamonds, after all, are forever): Ms. Placenti in front, Ms. Klein (the tallest of the four) in back, and Ms. Russell and Ms. Ross in between. The costume colors, burgundy and black, are balanced among the four. Occasionally the women peel off and dance individually, but generally this diamond form is maintained until the object of Ms. Placenti’s preoccupation, Mr. Reitman, enters and the music (by Enigma and Craig Armstrong), slows. What follows is a lovely little duet where, to visualize the commitment and the obsession, Ms. Placenti places herself on top of Mr. Reitman’s back along the length of his body. When he moves, she does. But he leaves her, after which the ‘chorus’ of women return, with Ms. Placenti resigned to her memory. But as the lights fade to near darkness, Mr. Reitman reappears, and Ms. Placenti turns her head toward that image (real or imagined doesn’t matter) – forever possessed by the traces of the relationship left behind. Subtle, effective, and very nicely done.
Chien-Hwe Hong, whose company, 1000 Virtues Dance, was the first to perform (and the ‘sixth degree of separation from Ms. Placenti), is a dancer, teacher and choreographer from Boston. For this assignment, Ms. Hong chose to divide her presentation into three brief duets illustrative of the topic. Although each piece tells a story, albeit a brief one, collectively they come across as scenes from some uncreated whole that don’t gel (and perhaps weren’t intended to). The first of the three, titled “Sweetest Thing,” is a paean of sorts to young love, with the ‘obsession’ (to the extent I could determine it) being the tendency of one ‘loved’ person to follow the other’s lead – in effect, to merge, or attempt to merge, with the other. I liked how Ms. Hong’s lyricism merged with floor work (to evocative music by The Rachel’s), and as performed by Wisty Andres and Jacob Regan, there was an appropriate sweetness to it (with an underlying sense that things couldn’t stay that way indefinitely). The second piece, “The Chicken and the Egg,” is more difficult to understand as a ‘story’, but more exciting to watch. In addition to her dance background, Ms. Hong has a background in tai-chi, and this piece was all Asian martial art. Danced by Sean McDonnell and Mr. Regan to live violin accompaniment by Julien Heller (the composition was uncredited), the two men performed extraordinary floor-based martial art movement, but, other than perhaps one attempting to out-do with other, the piece didn’t work as more than an exhibition. And although there must have been some significance to Mr. McDonnell wearing shoes, and Mr. Regan being barefoot, whatever it was eluded me.
The final component of her brief trilogy, “Envy,” to music attributed to The String Quartet (perhaps The Vitamin String Quartet?) was exactly as billed. Although its message, in the context of ‘obsession’, is clear, it was the least enjoyable of the three because it was so obvious, and its choreographic components the least interesting. Older witch-like woman, played by Sasha Lynn, envies the youthfully attractive attributes of Ms. Andres. All that was needed was a mirror, a poisoned apple, and a few representative dwarfs. A prince, charming or otherwise, would have been superfluous.
“The Closing at the End” by Angie Moon Dance Theatre, followed. The company was established in 2012 by Artistic Director Angie Conte, another dancer/choreographer from the Boston area. In the piece, to music by Volcano Choir, three dancers appear: a man stands stage right, two women stage left. Eventually one woman, Amanda Jones, falls to the floor, and the other two dancers, Brett Bell and Ms. Andres (an appealing dancer who appeared for this company as well as 1000 Virtues) come close to her, one on one side and one on the other, and appear to pray over her – perhaps obsessed with her death (or drawing inspiration from her). The two standing dancers eventually cross over the prone woman and switch places. The movement is static, with lots of thrusts and posing. In a second section, Ms. Jones begins to move, slowly squirming on the floor. At one point I thought of the semi-prone woman as a challenge to the others, particularly to Ms. Andres – representative of a river she must cross, or some horizontal mountain she must climb, or a stone she must push. Indeed, assisted by Mr. Bell, Ms. Andres appears to roll the once again prone Ms. Jones across the stage, repeatedly, as if Ms. Andres were Sisyphus aided by some compelling, dominating force (which might explain why the two never looked at each other). But the repetition is less obsessive than monotonous, and the piece overall lacks movement quality to make it interesting to watch.
I reviewed a dance by Crooked Mouth in a performance last fall, and described the piece, by company choreographer and founder Amy Campbell (who is also a dancer with Ms. Klein’s company), as constant, abstract movement, all at the same frenetic level. The third piece on last night’s program (‘fourth degree of separation’ from Ms. Placenti) can be described similarly, but I sensed something more this time – assisted, perhaps, by the evening’s topic. In “A Slender Song for Mother Shipton,” seven dancers (Mary Jo Cameltoe, Davon Chance, Jessica Debattista, Daniel Goode, Jeff Marras, Ashley Richard, and Ms. Campbell), barefoot and dressed in black, fill the performing area, and either in unison or, briefly, individually, writhe as if possessed. It’s all very much the same movement, and might have come across as boring but for the pulsing music by Swans and the power inherent in group repetition. Then I noticed that one of the women dancers, Ms. Campbell, wore white gloves, and a white collar emerged from the neck of one male dancer’s black shirt. While the latter could conceivably have been accidental, the former certainly was not. These observations led me to see the entire piece as representative of a religious or cult-inspired frenzy.
I did some post-performance research, and found that ‘Mother Shipton’ was an English-born sixteenth century prophetess and soothsayer, frequently described as a witch, who was a contemporary of Nostradamus (and considered by some to be on the same ‘level’). She purportedly forecast events during the reign of Henry VIII (accurately), as well as the end of the world (not so accurately). Anyway, given the title, ‘Slender Song’ may indeed have been about this sort of obsession. But if it is (and the program note that Ms. Campbell provided, a cryptic sentence referencing the difficulty of ‘letting go’ , doesn’t support my observation - or anything I saw in the piece), I suggest that Ms. Campbell do more with the woman wearing gloves and the man with the clerical collar than just being there. [I also found that a band exists named “Mother Shipton,” but found no connection between that band and Swans, or the title of the piece.]
Before Ms. Placenti’s company concluded the program, the Kennedy Dancers, a company (and school) located in Jersey City, New Jersey that was founded by Artistic Director Diane Dragone in 1976, presented “Force of Circumstance.” The piece, choreographed by Sean Curran, has been previously presented by the company at other venues for at least five years. It has nothing at all to do with ‘obsession’ (unless one considers the desire to move to be obsessive), but it’s an interesting abstract piece, to music by Radiohead, that was well performed by its cast off four women and three men. I particularly liked the propulsive performance of Bong Dizon, the more delicate attack of Blair Hotchner (a teacher at the school), and Julianna Kenworthy’s ‘slinky,’ sensual movement quality combined with command of space. Other dancers in the piece, each of whom performed Mr. Curran’s angular movement capably, were Eli Mendoza, Joe Monteleone, Elise Giannotti, and Larel Zaleski.