Inclined Dance Project
CPR (Center for Performance Research)
Brooklyn, New York
November 15, 2013
“In The Wires”; “Two”; “Kick It”; “Marrow”; “Stuck Together Pieces”
-- by Jerry Hochman
For a dance lover, New York is an amazing place. From small groups to solos to established companies to start-ups, from large venues to small, seemingly in every nook and cranny, each day of the week things are happening. The quality of the output varies, and the dance that’s presented may not appeal to every viewer’s taste, but it’s there, struggling for recognition.
One such program that appealed to my taste took place on Friday, at a small but comfortable venue in Brooklyn, where the Inclined Dance Project presented a program of five pieces by company Artistic Director/Choreographer Kristen Klein or members of her company. The dances by Ms. Klein demonstrate that she has a still-developing core choreographic style, coupled with the ability to put steps together in a way that makes visual and thematic sense and that maintains an audience’s interest. No small accomplishment. Equally significant is that her group of six dancers (herself and five other women) not only can enjoy and capably execute her choreography, but can successfully connect with an audience. Based on this program, Ms. Klein and her company deserve to be recognized.
At Friday’s program (which was repeated on Saturday), Ms. Klein presented a new work titled “In The Wires“, an old one, “Marrow,” which premiered in 2009, and the premiere of “Stuck Together Pieces.” Included on the program were pieces by company members Chie Mukai and Amy Campbell (“Two” and “Kick It”, respectively, the latter presented by Ms. Campbell’s company, ‘Crooked Mouth’).
Ms. Klein’s choreography is difficult to easily describe. There’s an evolving core movement quality that is more angular than lyrical, with a quirky, twitchy quality that reminds me a little (just a little) of Twyla Tharp. But Ms. Klein’s core choreographic movement seems more on a molecular level, as if each bone and each muscle is not only capable of movement, but can independently move in a controlled, rather than robotic or spasmatic, fashion. So not only do arms and legs and head and neck move, but it seems as if each vertebra and each muscle in the torso, for example, can be triggered at any given time – or not. And the movement is the same whether the dancer is standing, squatting, or prone, in motion or (on rare occasions) standing still.
But that’s only part of the description. More significant to me is that this core movement quality is not enforced as an eleventh commandment. The presentation is eclectic. Ms. Klein varies her core quality both with variations on the basic movement theme (instead of angular, twitchy movement, the movement becomes sinuous, flowing, almost sensual). Or the dancer will drag herself across the floor in various ways, or run, or be lifted and carried by another, or hit perfect arabesques, or softly exhale air in a way that combines blown kisses with imaginary wind gusts. Her pieces, at least those I’ve seen, have a clear (though not necessarily predictable) structure, and are crafted with care and intelligence: Even though the movement quality may sound disconnected and disparate, in the end, it all comes together. But most important, her dancers are not automatons. Whether imposed by choreographic design or the expression of the dancers' natural stage personae that Ms. Klein incorporates into the composition, the dancers are individuals with personalities, characters perhaps, not solely empty vessels moving in space.
“In The Wires,” a brief piece for three dancers (Chie Mukai, Morgana Phlaum, and Jennifer Radcliffe), isn’t a substantial work, but it’s crafted and executed very well. The piece begins with the dancers hunched over (enmeshed in wires?), moving their torsos, swinging their arms, and then comes to life with the dancers leaping solo or in changing pairs. The arms and hands are significant components of the piece, held high, or across, or shaken. It sounds like an exercise, but it comes across as an entertaining abstract work, with each dancer being given an opportunity to shine. Particularly notable was Ms. Phlaum, who teasingly softened rough edges in the core style, balancing the intensity of Ms. Mukai and Ms. Radcliffe with brief but buttery sensuality.
“Marrow” reportedly was inspired by a piece of graffiti art. It must have been high quality graffiti. The dance is only ten minutes or so long, but it’s filled with wonderfully entertaining and imaginative images, impeccably executed by Ms. Campbell, Christina Chelette, Ms. Mukai, Ms. Phlaum, and Ms. Radcliffe. It would be a marvelous abstract dance at any level of choreographic experience, but considering that it was Ms. Klein’s first company piece, “Marrow” is quite remarkable.
The piece describes the process of individuals both exploring their inner selves and connecting with others, and the forces and energies involved. It sounds trite – but the dance doesn’t look that way.
Choreographed to an original score by composer/collaborator Frank Gilbertson, “Marrow” uses, but isn’t bound by, the almost hallucinogenic main musical phrase that is repeated in various forms and in varying intensity throughout. That is, sometimes Ms. Klein also repeats choreographic phrases to match the musical phrase – letting one dancer lead the others in a particular movement, repeated thereafter with the same choreographic pattern but with a different movement – but she more often uses the repetitive musical theme as mesmerizing background to independent moving images.
And the deceptively simply choreography is itself spellbinding: it’s so interesting to watch that one doesn’t dare look away. The ‘core style’ that I described above is there, but only to a limited extent. Rather, “Marrow” is both angular and lyrical at times (reflecting the ballet background of Ms. Klein and most of the company members), mingling balletic images with its overall contemporary pulse. And there’s that wonderful blown kiss of air aimed by one dancer to another, and also from one dancer to the remaining dancers in the group. The visualization is remarkable because it’s not a step – but it’s integral to the presentation. Also integral is the visualization of bonding energy as an invisible string connecting one or more of the dancers. When the piece ended with every member of the group being connected to this unseen but visualized force, I wanted to cheer – Ms. Klein had pulled it together perfectly.
Like “Marrow,” “Stuck Together Pieces” is ‘about’ interactions between people, but it’s less cosmic. Here Ms. Klein is not concerned about energy forces, but about the interaction of people ‘stuck together’ in some sort of restricted space (although the type of ‘space’ can be anything – a room, a street corner, a subway car, a beach, Brooklyn), told in a dance that’s composed of vignettes that are also ‘stuck together’ to create a whole. And while an examination of this subject is hardly unusual, what makes “Stuck Together Pieces” different is its concurrent sense of individuality and community (albeit somewhat alienated), and an overall sense of ‘this is what it is’, rather than ‘this is what it should be’.
Structurally, the piece evolves in a series of choreographic episodes told by one of the dancers, into which one or more other dancers may appear and interact – or not. These vignettes are connected (or interrupted) by group images that in effect shuffle the bodies into different positions. It’s as if it’s a subway ride where the occupants of a particular car move and assume positions when the train stops at a station, but while it’s in motion, the action focuses on whomever happen to be stuck in the middle of the car without anything (or anyone) to hold on to. All the occupants have their guard up – this is a subway car (or other public space) filled with strangers, after all – but those in the middle are vulnerable, and appear apprehensive, lonely, unconcerned, or oblivious – or all of the above. In addition to the basic ‘core’ style, augmented by slides, floor work, leaps, and even a blown kiss or two, Ms. Klein uses the stage walls as a combination safe zone, observation point, and independent perimeter performing space. And the ‘score’ to which the dancers move is itself a collection of ‘stuck together’ sounds, curated by Ms. Klein, consisting of music or sounds from roughly fifteen musical sources (sounds from recordings that might be heard on the street, or in one’s home, or on a iPod while in transit), combined with nature sounds recorded in Prospect Park and Coney Island, sounds from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and, yes, sounds of the subway.
A brief word about the dancers in Inclined Dance Project: they’re fabulous. Each one, including Ms. Klein, executed her allocated share of the choreography (or perhaps what each contributed individually to the whole) with a rare combination of extraordinary intensity and competence. And they’re a heterogeneous group, from tall and thin to short and solid. But the two who seemed, in terms of stage personality, to be significantly different were the two newest members of the company, Ms. Campbell and Ms. Phlaum. Each ratchets the intensity down a bit – which is a good thing – and brings something different to the stage. In Ms. Campbell’s case, it’s a sense of detachment, of vulnerability, of being not quite sure whether she belongs. With Ms. Phlaum, it’s radiance. With a ready smile that seems to occupy 90 per cent of her face, Ms. Phlaum comes across as part Shirley MacLaine, part Leslie Caron, part Alfonse Mucha art nouveau figure, and part 500 watt light bulb.
The other pieces on the program were not as successful. Ms. Mukai’s piece, a brief duet danced by Ms. Klein and Ms. Chelette, has an Asian sensibility (both in Ms. Mukai’s deliberate and nuanced choreography and in the accompanying music). The two dancers are attached as if to a multicolored umbilical cord, one ‘dominant,’ and then gradually the roles appear to be reversed, and eventually the cord is cut. Ms. Campbell’s piece (danced by members of her company – Crooked Mouth: Jessica DiBattista, Daniel Goode, Jeff Marras, Ashley Mathus, and Ms. Campbell), titled “Kick It,” is constant abstract movement, but it’s all on the same frenetic level. Pure abstraction is fine, but it all tends to blur without more choreographic variety.
Overall, however, this program was a superb example of what happens in dance in New York every day, which few outside the dancers’ immediate circles know about. But word gets around – Friday’s performance was full, and my understanding is that Saturday’s was overflowing. If you enjoy watching nascent talent grow, see Ms. Klein’s company the next time it performs – if you’re so inclined.