Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Back to APAP: Regina Nejman at Dixon Place

Above, Brazil-born choreographer Regina Nejman
in Beautiful Figure
Below, Ryan Tully at piano and Julie Miller with Nejman
(photos: Julie Lemberger)

This past weekend, felled by the bad cold that's going around town, I missed some APAP-season shows I had long looked forward to seeing. I'm back now, and a full week it will be--culminating on Sunday with The GatheringCamille A. Brown's annual event for Black women dance artists, scholars, educators and allies!

Last night, I made it to Dixon Place for a showing of Regina Nejman's work in progress, Beautiful Figure. I won't say too much about Beautiful Figure since it is, after all, still "in progress."  But it's worth keeping watch for an official launch. Ambitious in concept and design, though compact in length, this piece fully reflects the painstaking effort already invested in its development.

Nejman tackles the notion of beauty as conceptualized through historical and contemporary Western societies. Late in the piece, she also satirizes today's digital obsessions and hookup culture.

She opens with a duet danced with Julie Miller under dim, sculpting light, both women draped in rippled lengths of slate gray fabric. Ryan Tully, the work's composer, sits at his piano, playing spare, quiet notes that, in time, will build and recede in intensity. The women move through a string of languorous poses--twisted, arched, splayed, crossed--as if at the behest of an invisible painter. Later, each will gather a length of fabric to herself, flip it around with her feet and make a grand whirlpool of energy. The dance takes the women (and their fabric) through various transformations, and even draws Tully into an undertow coursing down centuries to the age of hip hop and sexting.

Cast-wise, Beautiful Figure is a cleverly expandable thing. As noted before, Tully gets swept up into movement and dialogue, an expansion that, amusingly, does not stop with him. Nejman demonstrates her ability to coordinate activity on intimate and large scales and shows a creative range--from exquisite to athletic, from quiet to raucous, from meditative to absurd. There's palpable tension beneath all the beauty on display--always--and an evident desire for freedom. She's convincing in most things, though perhaps not yet convincing in the way she appears to conclude with a note of hope for the arrival of that freedom.

Early on in the piece, before Nejman branched into text and satire, I noticed something interesting about her approach to movement. She made us see her and Miller's bodies as human first and foremost. Not abstractions. Not symbols. Not even tools for a choreographer, trained to deliver the assigned steps and shapes. I was struck by this: Here were women. Dancing. And, yes--despite our imagination of the imaginary "artist" sketching or painting them--these were women's bodies speaking for their lives as bodies. Real ones. And Nejman's insistence on giving us even a small glimpe of the human being within the choreographed body was...well, I can only call it beautiful.

Closed. For further information on Regina Nejman & Company, click here.

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