Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chen's TRANSLATE: New voices, new dances

Some of Jen Roit's dancers in the comical and hyperkinetic Tropes,
curated by Jessica Chen for TRANSLATE (the voices of dance)
(photo: NYCreative Photography)

Below: Cody Potter in Shauna Sorensen's Circular Shift
(photo: Vanessa Gonzalez-Bunster)

Jessica Chen's dance festival, TRANSLATE (the voices of dance), offers developing choreographers ground to network with their peers, trade ideas and tools, build work and show it to a paying audience. A July 9th performance at Dixon Place, curated by Chen, gave us a look at what can come of these opportunities for creative exchange.

The show featured brief works by select troupes:

Robert Moore

with Chen's J Chen Project rounding out the evening in Training the Devil, the electric, contentious duet she choreographed with Chien-Hao Chang. A highlight of Chen's spring season at Ailey Citigroup Theater, it shines again, now with performances by Melissa Wu and Sean Nederlof. You can tell the sort of things that matter to Chen--character and feelings grounded, shaped and revealed in sharp imagery and rigorous, dynamic motion. Her curated artists hit those marks--or nearly so, clearly aspiring to them. They are all promising and worth encouragement, but I will note here two works that reached me and stick with me for two distinct reasons.

from Rachel M. Hettinger's Unfocused Blues
(photo: Vanessa Gonzalez-Bunster)

Rachel M. Hettinger's Unfocused Blues, with its many oddities, comes across like a smartly-designed calling card delivering just enough flair and mystery to make a viewer remember to seek out this artist in the future. New lifeforms erupting in motion, the ten dancers maneuver swift turns and scoops, with spongy knees and smoothly articulate torsos. A soloist can resemble tumbleweed, and a chorus splash movement like graffiti on concrete. The piece and its well-rehearsed corps--which includes the choreographer--have a steady, indeed brazen, confidence.

I'll admit I tried to resist Awakening Earth, a solo by and for Cleo Carol Knopf. An aerial dance set to "We Shall Overcome," sung by a Gay Men's Chorus, city undefined, and Holly Near's "Singing for Our Lives, a song I haven't heard in decades, sounds a bit much, a bit treacly. Yes, it almost is. Social justice anthems mixed with a circus act? I backpedaled. But Knopf grounded her sincerity in strong discipline, and that pulled me back. As she worked within her aerial hoop--ascending, coiling, stretching and yearning--it was impossible to not get carried along with her effort, skill and emotional momentum. Her dance, ultimately, is about giving one's all, one's best. A quest and a personal tribute to all who have struggled for social change we have seen and have yet to see.

Closed. To keep informed on future plans for Jessica Chen's TRANSLATE program, visit her Web site here. For Dixon Place's summer schedule, click here.

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