Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tap in the city: ATDF's "Rhythm in Motion" takes wing

American Tap Dance Foundation presented
Rhythm in Motion at ATDF's Tap City festival.
(photo: Amanda Gentile)

This year's Rhythm in Motion--part of the well-loved TAP CITY, the summer festival of all things tap--might be artistic director Tony Waag's best show ever. No trace of bloat, fluff or cornball, just expert, all-in, radiant power tap for nearly two hours. This is tap right on time and into the future. And diverse aesthetic styles with something for everyone--from lovers of Brazilian samba to Fats Waller to Steve Reich--and millions (they wish) served. Really, if you came away not finding something to cheer hard about here, I'm worried about you.

I regret that this show--presented at Symphony Space, long-time partner with Waag's American Tap Dance Foundation--ran only one night. People, can we do something about this sort of thing? The show I saw last night felt downright historic. Certainly, there were standout and breakout dance artists on the bill, and a viewer might even start contemplating...hmmm, yeah....some award nominations. Just sayin'. But, seriously, Bessies committee, start taking a wide-angled look at some of what's happening in tap these days.

I loved so much, but I will long remember the matchless, grounded, joyous confidence of Brinae Ali's Ndizzy Spellz; the always-surprising Caleb Teicher falling off his high heels then proceeding to kill it with yet one more unexpected strategy around tap and space and theatricality; and the all-women Full Circle Hardrocks's sharp cheerleader moves for Rokafella's The Drums Say Africa; and Lisa La Touche's Tap Phonics trio in the propulsive, offbeat Fragile. These artists do more than make tap "relevant" today; they offer no excuse to ignore tap.

Also serving some awesome tap on this program:Chloe Arnold and Robin Passmore, Christina Carminucci, Michelle Dorrance (with collaborating choreographer/improvisers Hannah Heiler, Melinda Sullivan and Josette Wiggan), Felipe Galganni, Charles Renato, Tami Sakurai, Delores Sanchez, Leo Sandoval, Samara Seligsohn and Nicholas Van Young.

Rhythm in Motion is closed, but there's one more event (Friday, July 13) you can enjoy before the season finishes up:
"TAP IT OUT" -- a free, public outdoor tap dance event at 1pm, 1:30pm, and 2pm at Father Duffy Square/Times Square (Broadway, West 46th Street to West 47th Street, 7th Avenue, Manhattan). Adult and pre-professional students create a chorus of hundreds of tapping feet. The contemporary percussion and movement "soundscape" promotes tap dance as pure music, while consciously deconstructing the basic elements that propel tap forward.
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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

A family affair: Jackie Sibblies Drury's "Fairview" at Soho Rep

Jackie Sibblies Drury's Fairview--now in a mostly sold-out run through July 22 at Soho Rep--is a high-speed autowalk masquerading as a clever ensemble play about an affluent Black family. It rolls out over a solid two hours. You embark within what appears to be safe, familiar sitcom-land--generically appealing, mainstream characters working through daily banalities and minor disputes while preparing a dinner party--and wind up whizzing through unsettling soap opera territory. I won't spoil any of Sibblies Drury's brilliant strategies and surprises. You absolutely should not go knowing what you're getting yourself into. Please, if you haven't already, don't read anything else that has been written about this play!

I will just say that, ultimately, Sibblies Drury has crafted this play with two distinct audiences in mind. I belong to one of them, and I felt duly amused and nourished.

The actors are vivacious, with standout turns by MaYaa Boateng (teenager Keisha, eventually calling b.s. on everything) and Roslyn Ruff (glamorous, meddlesome aunt Jasmine). The actors' deft timing and overall charisma benefit not only from Sarah Benson's direction but also Raja Feather Kelly's playful choreography which infuses and gives life to the entire proceedings. This work would not be the same without the way it claims and defines space and mobilizes bodies.

Performers: MaYaa Boateng, Charles Browning, Hannah Cabell, Natalia Payne, Jed Resnick, Luke Robertson, Roslyn Ruff and Heather Alicia Simms

Set Design: Mimi Lien
Costume Design: Montana Levi Blanco
Lighting Design: Amith Chandrashaker
Sound Design: Mikaal Sulaiman

Fairview continues through July 22. With the exception of July 8th's 7:30pm show ("99-cent Sunday"), where tickets must be purchased at the door, performances are sold out. For information, click here.

Soho Rep
46 Walker Street (between Broadway and Church), Manhattan

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Sunday, July 1, 2018

46th Dance on Camera Festival, July 20-24, Lincoln Center

Between Yourself and Me--a documentary on the innovative immersive theater works of Third Rail Projects--will screen at the 46th Dance on Camera Festival this month at The Walter Reade Theater.


For most of its 80 minutes, Lucinda Childs, Great Fugue by Beethoven (France, 2017) stays confined within the studio bubble, offering outsiders a dry, if rare, insider's view of the making of a contemporary ballet by one of the queens of New York postmodern dance. French filmmaker Marie-Hélène Rebois captures the choreographer at work with Lyon Opera Ballet to master the challenging surprises of a Beethoven piece. Dancers' sleek bodies skim across a tall, wide expanse of window panes in cool, fluid, friction-less partnering (which, with just a touch of daring, easily could have been rendered same-sex and gender-nonconforming). Happily, the final twenty-or-so minutes give us a handsome finished work--intricate for all its quiet lack of fuss; airy and shot through with light. World premiere Monday, July 23 (6pm) at the 46th Dance on Camera Festival, co-presented by The Film Society of Lincoln Center and Dance Films Association.

Also, check out the festival's world premiere of Between Yourself and Me (USA, 2017; 28m), co-produced with Dance Films Association, a look at acclaimed immersive theater troupe Third Rail Projects (Then She Fell) and Gravity Hero (USA, 2018, 70m), Trey McIntyre's reflection on his decision to shut down his successful, ten-year-old Boise, Idaho dance troupe.

Dance on Camera runs from Friday, July 20 through Tuesday, July 24 with all films screening at The Walter Reade Theater. For schedule information and tickets, click here.

The Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street (between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue), Manhattan

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Friday, June 29, 2018

Sidra Bell's worlds of imagination and friction

Sidra Bell who presents two works this week
at New York Live Arts
(photo: David Flores)

I'm on the fence about Sidra Bell's new work F R I C T I O N (prequel)--on the bill now at New York Live Arts along with 2014's garment (Director's Choice) about which I am unreservedly enthusiastic. And so it goes. Like super-clever sci fi writers and filmmakers, Sidra Bell Dance New York creates new worlds, exactingly-designed ones and hellish, to which we are invited. We don't have to go, and maybe we don't always.

F R I C T I O N opens this season's lengthy program--two hours with an intermission. You don't get dancers more weirdly excellent--and let me underscore, here, both *weird* and *excellent*--than Bell's troupe. But I really found it difficult to stay with 56 minutes of them behaving like soulless, mechanistic blips in a manic video game. It was just not for me. That's not to say that the audacity and stylishness of Bell's entire interdisciplinary aesthetic isn't brilliant and impressive and even hypnotically seductive. It is.

But then there's garment (Director's Choice), which has already won praise, and rightly so. This 47-minute work has been promoted as:

a playful, slightly offensive jaunt that attempts to rescue the individual by constructing a world that navigates popular zeitgeists, cultural rituals and social containers. Conceived through materials the work exercises small performance ceremonies and allows the performers to speak and mask through filters to observe identity, appropriation, political incorrectness, subliminal language, transfiguration, nonsense, influence, authorship, and reformation. you’ll be remembered…###


But the team really worked the hell out of this one, in both sight and sound. There's Bell, the auteur who bills herself as "Director," not choreographer. And there's Amith Chandrashaker (Creative Director, Lighting Design, Décor), an adept of space and atmosphere, and costume designer Caitlin Taylor. Costuming, as might be guessed, looms large in Bell's universe but so much more here where it suggests a kind of kinky-glamorous masking of the self; an angry, frustrating search for a less-fraught, more ordinary self; and--with Sebastian Abarbanell's expansive, ritualistic solo--finally a taste of freedom.

Bell's worlds are singular--even when colliding with the worlds of Pina Bausch, fashion and Harlem's ballrooms, as they do here. They fold and contort as much as Abarbanell's uncanny body. They are as ridiculously opulent as an extravagant hotel. It's hard not to cheer Bell on when you see all these things laid out just right and danced to perfection by this crew: Abarbanell, Tushrik Fredericks, Drew Lewis, Misa Kinno Lucyshyn, Madison Wada and Leal Zielińska, her self-described "boutique brand of prolific movement illustrators...."

Sidra Bell Dance New York continues through July 1. For schedule and ticket information, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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Thursday, June 28, 2018

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance in repertory season at NYU Tisch

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance
(photo courtesy of CLD)
Ramona Kelley and Daniel Matei in Summer Evening
(photo: Charles Roussel)

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance
June 27-28
Jack Crystal Theater
NYU Tisch School of the Arts

The new, two-evening season of Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance presents four works from repertory and live music played on the kora, a stringed instrument from West Africa. That traditional music is lovingly rendered by Kane Mathis, a Brooklyn-based performer and composer who has long studied with master musicians of The Gambia.

When Mathis, a white man, brought out a kora for an interlude in the midst of a program of contemporary ballet, it took me a moment to grasp the meaning of this juxtaposition. Then Matthis began to pluck the strings, with deep concentration and delicate touch and timing. Tinkling sounds brushed past our ears like cool, sweet breezes. Lavagnino included him, clearly, because his dedication to traditions--he also learned the oud from master teachers--parallels her own.

I doubt you'll ever find disruptive, radical experimentation at a Lavagnino show. She's old school with a distinct reverence not only for classical ballet--her works often engage pointe work and fluid lifts,  emphasize well-sculpted, grounded structure and line--but also classic modern dance with its concern for human interest. If you crave dance theater with musicality, romance, universal themes and relateable emotions, you'll be comfortable with Lavagnino.

The loveliest work on hand this season might be RU (2014), which takes inspiration from an autobiographical novel by Canadian writer Kim Thúy, a Vietnamese refugee. It largely skirts specifics to embrace sensuous gesture, partner interaction and atmosphere, though it might be a bit jarring--again, these juxtapositions--to see predominantly white dancers wafting about in áo dài tunics and trousers. But, beyond that, Lavagnino captures the gentleness and flow implied by the work's title ("lullaby" or "stream"). Dancers here are Chad Balen, Jesse Campbell, Dervla Carey-Jones, Justin Faircloth, Gwendolyn Gussman, Corinne Hart, Emma Pajewski, Lila Simmons and Claire Westby. Also, look for Ramona Kelley's snappy performance with Daniel Mantei sweeping her off her feet in Summer Evening (2017), set to the Janis Joplin’s version of "Summertime." Kelley, who has danced with Twyla Tharp and Sidra Bell, has got spunk of the "Mary Richards" variety and delivers energy to the work.

Costume design: Christopher Metzger
Lighting design: Kathy Kaufmann

Cherylyn Lavagnino Dance concludes tonight with a performance at 7:30pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Jack Crystal Theater
NYU Tisch School of the Arts
111 Second Avenue, Manhattan

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

"THEM" returns to its East Village birthplace

Johnnie Mercer Cruise and Hentyle Yapp
dance in THEM at Performance Space New York.
(photo: Rachel Papo)

Michael Watkiss and Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy
(photo: Rachel Papo)


Conceived, directed, and performed by:

Chris Cochrane (music/sound)
Dennis Cooper (text/spoken word performance)
Ishmael Houston-Jones (movement)

at Performance Space New York (East Village Series)


Tilt in the direction of a memory, starting anywhere. With sound: a deepening drone. With light: splashed across a man's back and legs otherwise engulfed by semidarkness. With bodies: still, lining the margins, covered in shadows.

THEM (made at and for Performance Space 122, premiered in 1986, now revived for Performance Space New York) is a way of remembering the AIDS epidemic and the lives downtown artists led and lost. With Chris Cochrane's electric guitar--caustic shredding, blurting, pounding dissonance. With Dennis Cooper's text--direct and revealing, vulnerable, delivered from off to one side, with isolating distance and longing observation. With dancers, led and gathered by Ishmael Houston-Jones, who toss themselves across the space and at each other with fiery abandon, who occupy the expanse, crafting a world necessary for themselves and their kind. With rites of gesture and behavior. With exploration through touch. With play. With aggression. With a visceral sense of the overpowering, inescapable presence of death...and Death.

The theater at Performance Space New York has just the right degree of plain-and-grim to help this memory work. Houston-Jones's score has been improvised by each of his dancers; the current revival's vigorous cohort includes Alvaro Gonzalez Dupuy, Johnnie Cruise Mercer, Michael Parmelee, Jeremy Pheiffer, Kensaku Shinohara, Michael Watkiss, and Hentyle Yapp. (Mercer and Yapp are especially headstrong, cogent performers, alone or together.) A spare, functional design--here a simple white mattress; there a menacing plank of wood--makes human movements and energies pop in the space, setting the stage for the emergence of a nightmare buried deep in the work and the blaring sirens (invoking, at once, a speeding ambulance and a city under threat) with which Cochrane drags the work to its end.

THEM continues tonight (7:30pm) and Thursday (7pm) with a post-show talk with Visual AIDS on Thursday. For information and tickets, click here.

Performance Space New York
150 First Avenue, 4th Floor (between 9th and 10th Streets), Manhattan

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