Dixon Place Theater
New York, New York
August 28, 2015
Mook Dance Company: Bloodflood; Defeating the Anx; Clouds,The Mind on the (Re)Wind
Crooked Mouth: Sunshine Champion
Beth Liebowitz & Artists: What You Hear is Yours
Inclined Dance Project: Babble (v.3.0)
-- by Jerry Hochman
The Dixon Place Theater on the Lower East Side was hopping last Friday, and not just because it was the beginning of the last weekend before the unofficial last weekend of summer. In addition to a performance and active bar upstairs, the theater downstairs hosted a program of six dances by four different companies. The capacity house (people were, almost literally, hanging from the rafters) knew what they were doing – it proved to be a very interesting evening.
Called inQUAD, the program was organized by Kristen Klein, Artistic Director and Choreographer of Inclined Dance Project, with the goals of networking between choreographers and dancers, and of building relationships and audiences. The idea of different ‘emerging’ companies coming together to jointly rent space is not new – but this program worked particularly well, since the companies and the dances complemented each other in unusual ways.
The dances presented by the first two companies couldn’t have been more different.
I have not previously seen Mook Dance Company ("MDC") or any piece choreographed by its Artistic Director Winnie Berger, so the competence and polish of both the choreography and MDC’s dancers came as a pleasant surprise. The first and third pieces, Bloodflood and Clouds, The Mind on the (Re)Wind share a basic similarity in terms of movement quality, sequencing and patterning. And. despite choreographic idiosyncrasies that add unusual and welcome texture – in the first piece, dancers frequently shake one hand (a sign of apprehension, or a visualization of ‘coming to life’, or just an interesting-looking movement quality), which is modified somewhat in the third piece so that the dancers' hands are not so much shaking as exploring their surroundings – there’s an overall refreshingly vigorous lyricism to Berger’s choreography.
Although the dances’ titles would seem to indicate some intended meaning (beyond reflecting the titles of the accompanying music, by At-J and Ezzio Bosso respectively), I didn’t get any - except perhaps for a general sense of ‘awakening’ in Bloodflood --but I appreciated both based on the common stylistic sense, and the execution by the engaging group of five women in the opening piece (Emily Anderson, Debra Bona, Brooke Naylor, Natalie Person and Gabrielle Segall), to which three more (Molly Levy, Rachel Secrest, and Berger) were added for the third piece.
But the middle piece was particularly impressive. Defeating the Anx (choreographed to On the Sea by Beach House) is one of those ‘I-will-survive’ solos that are almost a cliché. But here, the focus isn’t so much on ‘woe is me’ or how awful whatever it was was, but on overcoming anxiety (the ‘anx’ in Defeating the Anx, perhaps) – or, on a more cosmic scale, of battling free from depression. It’s unclear whether the forces that batter her are imposed by the dancer’s world, or self-imposed, but it doesn’t matter. This is thrilling, complex choreography – all movement, all terrible, and all wonderful, all the time.
And in Anne Souder, the piece found a perfect vessel. Souder not only dances as if possessed by inner demons which she was desperately trying to exorcise, she also brings a special, individual quality to the piece – a somewhat dark, inscrutable demeanor coupled with an inner fury that is beyond the simple competence required to execute Berger’s steps; she’s a magnetic and arresting stage presence. Brilliantly done.
In contrast to the apparent control, finesse, and order apparent in these pieces, Crooked Mouth’s Sunshine Champion looks ragged, outrageous, and disordered – but this is intentional.
I’ve seen Artistic Director Amy Campbell’s work before, and at least choreographically, Sunshine Champion is similar to others. Indeed, the choreography itself, if deconstructed, seems more a collection of movements, with too much wind-up before the next motion is delivered, which adds to a sense of clunkiness to the movement quality. But here details of the choreography are secondary to the overall theatrical impact Campbell wants, and to a large extent successfully creates. This piece has – at least to me – a clear overall theme: the disorder in a relationship, a family, or between generations.
Choreographed by Campbell in collaboration with the dancers to a compilation of music from at least nine different sources, Sunshine Champion begins with four dancers in distinctively colored tops aligned horizontally across the back of the stage area. While one dances, the others hop, marking time or awaiting their turn. Eventually, all move downstage and dance either individually or in tandem – though there seems to be no effort made to dance strictly in unison. Then one of the women sticks her fingers partly into her mouth, mimicking intentional vomiting (or bulimia), and suddenly it’s not all weird, disconnected moves – suddenly things get ugly. This is not a gathering of cuddly young adults that an audience might want to adopt – this is a dysfunctional, alienated group.
And then as if on cue, the scene and music change and a woman (Mary Jo Bono), stuffed into a pink beach outfit, wanders on stage and plops herself onto a beach chair to soak up some sun as well as the drink that materializes next to her. The other dancers (her children?; teens already on the beach?) don’t want anything to do with her. She looks for support (accompanied by snippets of Brian Eno’s Baby’s On Fire), but doesn’t find it. Ashley Richard, Campbell, and Sarah Lulenski then dance compelling anguished solos, which segues into Bono’s getting up from her chair and mouthing the lyrics from I’m Not In Love by 10cc as the group’s lone male dancer, Daniel Goode, writhes and throws himself around nearby. And as the dance proceeds though excerpts from Springsteen and Madonna, the desperation of both generations is inescapable. Sunshine Champion is not a particularly fun piece to watch (except perhaps with respect to its vicious dark humor) but it does justice to Campbell’s concept.
Following intermission, Beth Liebowitz & Artists, presented what to me was the most intriguing dance of the night: What You Hear Is Yours. Liebowitz has crafted a piece that has its dancers take their inspiration, and perhaps their characters, from the music they hear – or perhaps it’s the other way around: the music they hear takes its character from the dancers. But the ‘characters’ of the music and the dancers mesh so intricately that the overlap becomes blurry – to the point where the musicians themselves provide not only live musical accompaniment, but become, physically, part of the dance performance itself.
The piece begins before intermission end, as the three dancers, Morgana Phlaum, Jenna Purcell, and Calvin Tsang, and the two drummers, David Palazola and Daniel Petty, set up. Then as the audience continues to file in, the dancers and drummers tune their instruments. At first I thought the dancers were simply stretching, but as the pre-performance performance evolved, it was clear that more was going on – the dancers were engaging with the drums, creating a mind/body meld between the percussive instrument and the instrument of movement.
A blow by blow description of music and accompanying performance isn’t particularly enlightening. Suffice it to say that the interplay was clear. Purcell’s character, as well as that of the drumming that accompanied her movement, was somewhat frenetic and wild; and Tsang’s more controlled and polished-looking. But the marriage worked best with the drums merging into (or responding to) Phlaum’s character. Phlaum (like Campbell) is also a member of Klein’s Inclined Dance Company, so I’ve seen her work before, and previously described her as part Shirley MacLaine, part Alphonse Mucha art nouveau figure, and part 500 watt light bulb. Here, she was all Mucha – a deadpan, slinky vamp who converted soft percussion into sensuous visual purrs. Or the other way around.
The evening’s final piece was a revision of Klein’s Babble, which I reviewed in an earlier incarnation a year ago. Babble (v.3.0) remains as well-crafted and intentionally uncomfortable-looking as it did before, but it now appear to have greater complexity and choreographic activity, with more of an emphasis on the dancers’ inability to communicate with each other (via their movement languages) than on attempting to establish communication. And gone is the piece’s previous ending, with the dancers raising their feet toward heaven as if seeking a solution from some higher power – it’s replaced, more convincingly, with resignation that perhaps it’s best for practitioners of the different ‘languages’ to simply coexist. But the piece still displays Klein’s well-defined structure despite the apparent randomness of the movement, and still features the same three dancers (Christina Chelette, Chie Mukai, and Klein) presenting the choreography with the intensity it deserves. Each of the three shined.
Based on this program, Klein’s efforts proved resoundingly successful, and I look forward to inQuad’s next presentation.