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Thursday, May 21, 2015

New dances by Bartosik and Crossman at Abrons Arts Center

Above and below:
Scenes from Kimberly Bartosik's Ecsteriority4 (Part 2)
(photos: Ryutaro Mishima)

In a human environment, propulsion--willed by the self or coerced by outside forces--means you're bound to stray through someone's airspace, run up against another body and do damage. Kimberly Bartosik creates that supercharged, contested, treacherous space in her world premiere ensemble, Ecsteriority4 (Part 2), a trio for Dylan CrossmanMelissa Toogood and Marc Mann.

Crossman and Toogood, like Bartosik, had distinguished careers with Merce Cunningham. Guyana-born Mann has his own illustrious history, including Principal and Soloist roles in the Martha Graham Dance Company and work with Bill T. Jones and Susan Marshall. While handsomely sleek, nimble in force and timing, these three performers share a reckless drive in Ecsteriority4 (Part 2). They are up for anything.

Roughly a half-hour in length, the piece takes full advantage of the dramatic confines of a small, spare chamber, Abrons Arts Center's Black Box Experimental Theater. Bartosik's audience should sense the desperate impact of bodies against walls and the risk of those bodies colliding with the Fourth Wall, too. Believe me, we do.

It opens with a slice of chaos. At first, houselights dim only slightly, leaving watchers exposed. Bartosik's torrential soundscape, much of it, could be songbird tweets on Fast Forward. Don't imagine that would sound pretty at all. To the keening sound, dancers thrash against the black backdrop, careen wild splashes of movement around the floor.

This action had already begun when, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a person quietly close the door to the space, closing us in. The timing seemed oddly late but perhaps deliberate and had real psychological power.

Gaze at Toogood's face. Her eyes reflect vulnerability, apprehension, perhaps shock, even while she stays in motion. But she not only stays in motion, she survives and with unexpected aggression, red in tooth and claw. At one point, the dancers engage in staged combat without real contact; the air takes the kicks and blows. Crossman ends up on the ground with what appears to be two victors astride him, closely eyeing each other. Who will haul away the spoils?

In a scene near the end, Toogood's eyes lock onto Mann's, staring him down, literally; he backbends away from his overpowering competitor. Toogood then looms over Crossman and deftly strips the shirt from his torso. As Crossman, in particular, repeatedly discovers, there's no easy way to break or scale the wall that contains this dance's violence and furtive sexuality. Yet everything ends with a decisive choice made by each combatant.

Above and below:
Scenes from Dylan Crossman's BOUND
(photos: Ryutaro Mishima)

Crossman's own world premiere, BOUND, opened the evening. (Both works are part of Abrons's new TRAVELOGUES dance series curated by Laurie Uprichard, former director of Danspace Project and of Ireland's Dublin Dance Festival). Of BOUND, a solo, Crossman writes that it "questions emotional (in)dependence--how real freedom may lie in recognizing what binds us, what we have already freed ourselves from, and what ties will always be with us."

To convey this might not absolutely require white cords anchored to the walls and attached to Crossman's ankle, elbow and back, but this design element works well, both visually--subdividing and moving against the murky space--and as a suggestion of living as someone or something else's marionette.

Interestingly, Crossman, like all three dancers in Bartosik's work, commands more agency than you might first realize. The first sign, for me, was in the care with which he positions his bound body--particularly, the firmly pointed feet--which seems a choice, though straight out of classical ballet. At times, he clearly aims to float and to fly, and he can and does release or re-position his attachments at will. He can lash his arms as if wielding weaponry, and he can push into the space and noisily claim it. Only the abruptness of this solo's end suggests one controlling tie that none will ever remove.

Bartosik and Crossman's shared program continues nightly through Saturday with performances at 8pm. There will be a post-performance talk with the artists, moderated by Uprichard, on Saturday, May 23.

For more information and tickets, click here. The box office opens a half-hour prior to the performance. All seating is general admission.

Black Box Experimental Theater
Abrons Arts Center
466 Grand Street (between Pitt and Willett Streets), Manhattan

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