Saturday, February 6, 2016

Seven emerging artists make tracks at New York Live Arts

Dance tends to be a highly sensory experience for me, less of a head experience. And it's my senses, my instincts, my gut that I trust first, if not exclusively. If your work comes packaged in words (for funders, for presenters, for press, for your closest colleagues), I might or might not find them useful or, ultimately, reflective of what I've experienced.

So, sometimes I just don't get it. I have to look past what you've written (or has been written about you) to see you. And maybe that means I'm not seeing you the way you want to be seen. But there it is. Think of me as that outsider from another planet who does not share your language now or yet or ever.

Case in point, the language surrounding this season's edition of Fresh Tracks--part of an extensive program for early-career choreographers at New York Live Arts--which will be repeated tonight. Some of the verbiage accompanying works from the current individual artists and duos I get and appreciate. Some of it looks hopelessly opaque to me. I just need to say that straight up.

Melanie Greene’s Performing Okay solos is described as conjuring "a curious contradiction of meaning, quality, and intention as one word sits simultaneously within competing body and language narratives. It sparks questions surrounding repetition, physicality, and language."

The solo is handsomely performed, fascinating, intermittently amusing and emotionally moving, and I suspect that descriptive language around it might speak to Greene's peers (other young choreographers) more than it does to me. What's going on in Performing Okay as I see it? I see a young woman, a Black woman, a young Black woman artist in New York literally struggling with the impulse to tell her truth--which is that she's not always okay--and the ingrained habit of hiding it. That's real and something worth dancing about. Maybe it's not a good idea for an artist to speak too clearly about such things before people have had a chance to sit their butts down in the theater, though. So, I would have been content to be completely surprised by the clear human beauty and meaning in this dance and not be searching for the abstractions dryly listed in its promotional statement.

Sarah Lifson’s i eat pancakes for dinner, we're told "is freedom, free will, and free verse. It concerns itself with consumption, and the active vs. passive infiltration of information into our cells."

In a queer way, I get the freedom part, and I like the implication of movement as free verse. (And pancakes for dinner? Girl, pass me some.) Her performance starts by taking us by surprise--a dash into and out of the space, flailing all the way. Then she leaves us to chuckle at the empty space. Next, a little bomb of music drops--splat!--then abruptly cuts off. When Lifson finally returns to the space, she's all flapping arms and hands; loose, angular body pelting here and there. With one arm rigidly restrained by the other, she zooms forward, aiming to poke a woman in the front row. She observes no boundaries. Her sense of space, time and even lighting are all equally offbeat, equally heedless. But "consumption, and the active vs. passive infiltration of information into our cells" are things she knows and that I don't see.

The earnest, comprehensive description for EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Jonathan González's now-titled I'd give you Bodies reads:
Mining collaborative as well as personal movement histories, EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Jonathan González’s yet-to-be-titled work investigates the disparities and similarities that lie between our bodies culturally, socially, and artistically. Harmony and dissonance continually emerge in their identity markers as a queer identified white woman and a queer identified brown man. While experimenting with the physical aspects of disorientation, duration, momentum, and intimacy, the manifold aspects of their identities, creative visions, and creative histories also become physical realities at play.
None of that conveys the keen, strange theatrical experience of overhearing these dancers apparently colliding and thrashing in the dark over a lengthy period with only a glimmer of their coordinates in space. They conduct an entire relationship in sound--which, oddly enough, sounds sexual--largely hidden from our sight. At one point, one does turn on a flashlight, the beam of which acts more as attractive decor against the dark of the stage than useful illumination of the performers. Eventually, lights reveal them, and the remaining time might show what we could not see and may or may not have misinterpreted--an attachment that looks complex and troublesome. A lot of humanity to look at and process. Skove-Epes and González are skillful, searching artists, and--as I've noticed in González's previous work--they seem intent on subverting how people watch and performers function within theatrical space.

The description for Eli Tamondong's solo (with audience helpers) Feast or Famine, might (just maybe) tell a little too much too soon, but it at least explicitly connects us to living human experience and gets the whole of my attention:
Melding dance and spoken word, Eli Tamondong’s Feast or Famine struggles with American masculinity and love through a queer Filipino boy’s eyes. Tinikling, a traditional Philippine dance, and ballet collide over golf commentary and gay sex, coming-of-age in a world of fetishization and colonized bodies. Entangled by white love, how does this boy find value in all colors?
My wife likes to say that some Hollywood trailers show you everything you need to know about a movie--for better or worse--and, then, why do you have to see it? Nevertheless, this dance's description offers some guidance to the stark, poetic and multi-sensory experience of Tamandong's performance. His visual and sonic approach is bold and unsettling, effective and not to be forgotten.

In Hope So Hard, Georgia Wall and Itamar Segev are, we learn, "topless, wearing only baggy white cotton briefs which resemble diapers or modern day loincloths. They merge and disperse, searching and subverting trying, to burst open lust and prayer. Georgia loves to alter her body. Itamar can make her cry when he sings."

Like the previous artists, Wall and Segev find ways to tear down the fourth wall and mess with lighting, structure and all sense of propriety. I'm just not sure why, and I'm also not sure what's fresh about this particular track.

"Fresh Tracks" concludes tonight with a 7:30pm performance. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 7th and 8th Avenues), Manhattan

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