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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Movement Research Festival: Gwen Welliver and Abby Zbikowski

Choreographers  Gwen Welliver and Abby Zbikowski shared last evening's program at Danspace Project as part of the 2015 Movement Research Festival (Vanishing Point). The two artists were selected by festival curators Beth Gill and Cori Olinghouse to explore new ways of envisioning abstraction in contemporary dance. If postmodernists stripped "fantasy, metaphor and characters" from dancemaking, would it be possible to reclaim these compelling elements in fresh ways?

Paul Klee's Was für ein Pferd! (What a Horse!), 1929

With What a Horse!--the title alludes to a Paul Klee line drawing--Welliver works on this problem by transferring her own drawing practice to physical bodies on the move. Happily, two of the bodies in question belong to Claire Westby and Stuart Singer, both excellently suited for Welliver's heroic aesthetic here, capable of bold, substantial presence in space, with a launching as noisily assertive as Jake Meginsky's sound score. When Welliver has Westby extend a leg, for instance, it resembles both a puncturing weapon and a decisive act of punctuation. In either case, we quickly get that this is not a figure to tangle with, just as the childlike, spindly lines in the Klee drawing convey the electric dynamism of its horse and rider. Amid the plumped out, sculptural lines of Welliver's abstraction, there is some galloping, cantering, trotting and the introduction of a third figure--dancer Reid Bartelme (sporting a protective vest of what appears to be black leather covering a pale, satiny shirt) who heralds something of smoother, silkier texture in both movement and music.

If, as an abstractionist, Zbikowski takes interest in stripping anything away, it's stripping our sense that the art of dance is about making things look effortless. She foregrounds effort, even discomfort. In her duet, double nickels on a dime, she brings the "outside" influences of punk, hip-hop and martial arts into the formal space of concert dance but not as fetishized artifact but as form, energy and psyche embodied, in a matter-of-factly outrageous way, by wonderful Fiona Lundie and Jennifer Meckley. Like Singer and Westby in What a Horse!, these dancers take the space in great gulps, sneakers making noisy impact, legs striding wide, bodies jutting and wrenching within organized, neat lines of structure. Watch and you feel everything--the concision of the lines, the athletic power, the attitude of being ready for anything. Every now and then, I see a performance that would make an ideal bridge from the often insular world of contemporary dance to the rest of the universe, and this is one.

The 2015 Movement Research Festival concludes tomorrow. For information on remaining events, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue), Manhattan

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