Friday, June 15, 2012

And we're gonna get married...right? right?!

Pressing Empty, made by dancer-choreographer Melissa Riker for her Kinesis Project Dance Theatre, takes a short-story writer's approach to the most fundamental story of all--the ups and downs and back-and-forth of one human being relating to another; the many flavors and faces of love, loss, loneliness, and healing in a flowing collection of tales told through movement and music. Riker's vignettes and imagery derive from conventions and heightened, complicated emotions swirling around an impending wedding. The news that Riker, herself, is a bride-to-be gives this richly-designed piece an extra layer of poignancy and sweetness.

Some Kinesis Project members gathered for an outdoor shoot. Dancers in the current production are, far left to right, Jun Lee, Madeline Hoak, Benjamin Oyzon and Hilary Brown. (Photo: Melissa Riker)

Before her dancers first drift into the space, Riker--a small, personable and power-packed woman--scurries in front of us, constantly chattering at us, smiling winningly but admitting to a case of nerves. She even asks one front-row viewer to help her adjust the big bow at the back of her wedding gown, and that person makes a nice, theatrical show of "buttoning" this button-less bow. With one stroke of a magic wand, Riker has quickly turned us all into big sisters, favorite uncles, cousins from out of town--a funny way to pull an audience into your show and get it on your side.

But if this choreographer worried at all that she might need to win over this audience, she needn't have. Pressing Empty feels to me, at 75 minutes, a little run-on but works in absolutely every other way. It's boosted by great teamwork all around, with the lion's share of credit due to Riker's confident theatricality, her sense of beauty, timing, subtlety and exacting detail in movement, and her attractive, versatile ensemble--Zoe Bowick, Andrew Broaddus, Hilary Brown, Madeline Hoak, Jun Lee and Benjamin Oyzon--whose similar attention to detail brings out the various "types" they play in Riker's living book of stories. Riker makes particularly lovely, affecting use of Bowick's lyricism, Hoak's vivacity and Oyzon's playfulness, but they are all wonderful in individual ways and together. And big credit is also due to Katie Down, for the supportive artistry of her soundscape, a surprising playlist of everyone from Ani DiFranco and Celia Cruz and John Cage to The Turtles and Sigur Ros and Zap Mama.

I never loved nobody fully
Always one foot on the ground
And by protecting my heart truly
I got lost in the sounds...

And it breaks my heart
--Regina Spektor ("Fidelity")

Tonight's performance, program notes tell me, will be followed by "small, facilitated conversations by NY professionals," and audience members are encouraged to "stay for this brand new style of open dialogue about dance."

Among the five facilitators, Joanna Lindenbaum writes that "I usually feel transported as well as jealous when I watch dance," and Tegan Culler tells us that she "feels jealous when she watches dance." So if the jealousy thing, in particular, strikes a chord with you, you might want to hang around.

Pressing Empty continues through Saturday with 8pm shows. For information and ticketing, click here.

Danspace Project
10th Street at Second Avenue, Manhattan

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