Friday, April 8, 2011

Through the years with Janis Brenner

Janis Brenner’s 5 Decades II at Danspace Project not only bridges the gaps between generations of choreographers; it also makes a good case for bridging the divide between those who love dance and those who have yet to make that wonderful leap of faith.

It’s a pleasurable show with a skillful, highly watchable cast of dancers. Taking us from two Mary Wigman solos through to Brenner’s fresh-from-the-studio ensemble world premiere, this evening continuously underscores the old and perennial values of graceful imagery, expressiveness and human connection but with inventive quirks that give a Brenner piece its magnetic pull and memorability.

The staging of old-school Wigman solos--”Seraphic Song” and “Pastorale” from the 1929 Swinging Landscape--has the curious effect of reminding us that we’re seated in a religious sanctuary, particularly since Brenner initially uses the altar area, lit up like a Theosophist’s dream of austerely holy flames, to frame herself. The first piece--all deep, sculptural curves--goes by in a blink. The second, initiated by one hand emerging from her supine, satin-clad body like a tender spring shoot, blooms into a filigree of joyful, undulant gesture, exquisitely performed. Brenner learned these solos from her mentor, Annabelle Gamson, acclaimed for her interpretation of the works of Wigman and Isadora Duncan.

A duet from the 1976 Cleopatra by Murray Louis--Brenner danced in his troupe from 1977 to 1984--is silky, sensuous and New Agey in that ‘70s kind of way. The choreography puts features of modern dance and ballet into a blender and cheerfully whirs away then adds chunks of angular, faux-2D movement imagery out of Ancient Egyptian art. The result is something lightheartedly sexy, sweet, pretty and witty but not without substance, thanks to the clarity of Kyla Barkin as Cleopatra and Aaron Selissen as Marc Anthony.

Other pieces trace Brenner’s own creative history. The intriguing duet from Pieces of Trust (1987, 1989) stands out for the fully-invested performances of Christopher Ralph and Sumaya Jackson, whose bodies offer vivid portraits of distortion, questioning, anxiety and, ultimately, disconnection. (Esmé Boyce takes the Jackson role tonight.) There are the simple, well-organized moods and energies of heartSTRINGS, set to the soft rock standards arranged by John Reed for the Hampton String Quartet. This lovely work premiered at Danspace Project in 1998. And Brenner tops it all with The Mind-Stuff Variations, a clever movement-and-spoken word piece which really ought to be enjoyed without worrying overly much about how it was made and what all of this has to do with the theorizing of psychologist William James. At the core, I find a complex portrait of an artist struggling to define herself, to buffer and hold her center against external and internalized flak, and that's profoundly moving.

With dancing by Barkin, Boyce, Brenner, Jackson, Ralph, Selissen, Luke Murphy and Chen Zielinski.

With original music for The Mind-Stuff Variations by Jerome Begin and live performance by Begin, Elizabeth Derham and Lauren Kiyoshi Dempster

With lighting design by Mitchell Bogard

5 Decades II continues through tomorrow evening with performances at 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery
Second Avenue and 10th Street, Manhattan
(directions)

1 comment:

Minneloushe said...

Eva, Nice review. I was there. So far, yours is the only intelligent comment on Janis' work. The NY Times review is one of the most blind, deaf and dumb reviews I've ever seen. Clueless.

I'm so glad you actually saw (and FELT) what you were looking at (and hearing).

Congratulations (he says, condescendingly, LOL). I had to post this little silly comment, relieved to see at least someone actually got it.

- Jerry Wechsler

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