Friday, January 27, 2012

Leichter dance: all the way live and outspoken

Shay Wafer, 651 Arts's new Executive Director, and Anna Glass, Managing Director, were on hand last evening to usher in a new season of Live & Outspoken. This popular series, presented at the Mark Morris Dance Center, features conversations between stars and innovators of the performing arts and samples of the artists' work. A magical interview between Ntozake Shange and Marc Bamuthi Joseph was one of my highlights of 2011.

Last night's session paired the richly talented Eisa Davis (playwright, singer-songwriter, actress, dancer) with dancer-choreographer Nicholas Leichter. Davis and Leichter go back a long way. When she first moved to New York, she took up residence in his basement, and they have collaborated. So it was no surprise that this conversation would be a breeze. Davis brought to it not only personal insight but fresh imagination, a real interest in discovery.

Eisa Davis (Photo by Colman Domingo)

Nicholas Leichter
Reflecting on his club-kid period, Leichter reached back to one source of the intensity in his dancing and dance-making.

"I did it so young and so early when it was still in this dark period," he said. "I saw a lot of crazy shit, though I never did any of that. There was hysteria, but there was also a crazy amount of passion on the dance floor. Such energy. It just ignited me.

"It wasn't as segregated as it is now. It was kind of pre-hip hop and felt like what modern dance should be--a mix of a lot of things."

Leichter developed an attitude towards concert dance that was a mix of a lot of things, too--the fire and fluidity of club dancing, yes, but also the discipline of the ballet studio. A technical wiz kid himself, he says that the rigor of his training still underlies all of his work, although it might not be as overt as it used to be.

The evening's talk was interspersed with excerpts from a smokin' duet (from Twenty, Leichter's evening-length work-in-progress) that features the choreographer and a younger dancer, Bryan Strimpel. Here's a bit of Strimpel.

French Kiss (excerpt from Black Barbra) from Nicholas Leichter Dance on Vimeo.

That's all fine, but you really must see Strimpel and Leichter dance together, a collaboration that, the choreographer says, revitalized his own dancing.

Different in age (by almost twenty years), race, body type and sexual orientation, Strimpel seems to have absorbed and enhanced the qualities that have always been wildly magnetic about Leichter--an elastic body nevertheless given to delivering rapid, sharp, percussive language, the entire body as speech and gesture. Leichter mentioned that critics, admiring of his dancing, sometimes chide him for not having dancers who can replicate his abilities. I suspect that there's a subtle distinction here: It's not about having dancers who look like you and dance like you but focusing on dancers who can stand up to you. Lanky, blond Strimpel does just that, approaching his work in a dramatically sexy deadpan way, matching Leichter at every turn and then some. The results are electrifying.

Catch up with everything from Nicholas Leichter Dance here, and with 651 Arts' new season here.

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