Friday, May 5, 2017

Got GRIT? What's new and what's reworked at Gibney

Nigel Campbell (left) and Brandon Welch
perform in Joanna Kotze's world premiere, Already Ready.
(photo: Scott Shaw)

Invent, reinvent. Configure, reconfigure.

Since forming her Gibney Dance Company in 1991, Gina Gibney has continually re-imagined who and what it could be--from its demographics to the degree of its performers' engagement with the world outside of studios and theaters. And, this week, comes the second round of another programming structure out of the Gibney organization--GRIT (Gibney Repertory Initiative for Tomorrow) which, in effect, gives her five-member ensemble the challenge of working with choreographers other than herself.

The organization describes the program as follows:
Gibney Dance Company’s GRIT series “makes space for the future of dance” by commissioning new works and reimagining signature works by contemporary dance artists. GRIT posits the possibility that the present generation’s work will be recognized and celebrated in live performance by future audiences.
So, if I got this right, part of the mission of the troupe will be to embody and preserve works by other select dance makers. What GRIT mainly sounds like, though, is a way to expand on what Gibney dancers are exposed to and what they can be prepared to tackle in the future--an interesting development.

The opening last night at Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center showed GRIT to be very much a work in progress. You wish well for these dancers but, with the distinct exception of Gibney stalwart and Associate Artistic Director Amy Miller, they have not yet opened into the depth of the work--in the case of Joanna Kotze's new Already Ready, potential depth; in the case of Reggie Wilson’s collaged config. Khoum-baye Heah, near-bottomless depths.

They risk looking far more callow and untried than they actually are. And even a secure veteran like Miller--whose every appearance is a master class in how to think about performance, how to perform and how to see performance--often seems to be just keeping up with the surface, basic requirements of the Wilson work.

Devin Oshiro, Brandon Welch, Amy Miller,
Nigel Campbell and Kasandra Cruz
in Reggie Wilson's config. Khoum-baye Heah

Wilson has made many dances for his exciting Fist and Heel Performance Group largely informed by his research into the arts and spiritual cultures and ritual practices of the broad African diaspora and infused with his wit and contemporary, formal inventiveness. (Long ago, he named this wondrous melange "post-African/Neo-HooDoo Modern dance.”)  It is to be hoped that Wilson's valuable repertory will indeed be available to future makers, scholars, performers and audiences.

Veteran FHPG dancer Paul Hamilton assisted Wilson in setting a medly of elements of PANG (2000), The DEW WET (1997) and Big Brick – A Man’s Piece (2002) on the Gibney troupe. By Hamilton's account, the experience was a generous one on both sides with the Gibney dancers bringing their strength of community, willing to embrace the Wilson aesthetic's formidable physical demands. Physically, those demands are ones of speed and a furious multiplicity of isolations, directions, levels, uses of weight and deployments of the pelvis. So much going on at once, often at full force. Their bodies hit it, but I don't see the whole of each person living it, being in it. I don't get why they're doing what they're doing.

Kotze's Already Ready, she tells us, comes out of desire to meet the demands of the current moment for stepping up--as citizens, as activists, as creative people who care. Are we ready? She believes we are, and that fits in with everything I've ever known about what Gina Gibney wants for her dance artists and for dancers in general. So, here, a good match--at least in terms of aspiration.

What I appreciate about Already Ready is that is does, indeed, seem to be about people ready to play. They bring their noisy feet into the space, and they boldly doodle and squiggle themselves all over it as if they were big, fat crayons. Diverse in racial background and motley in costuming, they're just a bunch of folks making their particular marks in time, bringing what they bring. I don't see a whole lot more going on here, but I do see that, if this is Kotze's ultimate point, it got across.

Performers: Nigel Campbell, Kasandra Cruz, Amy Miller, Devin Oshiro, Brandon Welch

GRIT continues through Saturday with performances tonight at 8pm and Saturday at 5pm and 8pm. For information and tickets, click here.

Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center
280 Broadway (enter at 53A Chambers Street), Manhattan

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