Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Emanuel Gat Dance

The World According to Gat: Emanuel Gat Dance at ADF

July 7-9 Reynolds Industries Theater

I like to imagine, sometimes, that every dance reveals a certain vision, a certain conception, of the world; that each dance says, “here’s what the world is like, through my eyes.” (I don’t actually believe every choreographer intends this for his or her dance, nor do I assume that each dance speaks its creator’s worldview, just as books are not always speaking their author’s opinions. Rather, I find it an interesting way to make sense of and find the essence and possible significance in a dance.) Looking at some of this ADF season’s offerings from that perspective, the world according to Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is one of struggle and passion, of great internal and external strength, one in which the body speaks eloquently of its condition; Rosie Herrera’s world is a dream-state, where reality is as surreal as fantasy, and dreams are weighted with truth.

The world of Emanuel Gat’s new dance, “Brilliant Corners,” a work for 10 dancers, is one in which moments of clarity and power breeze quickly by, human interaction is fleeting, and everyone, everything, is moving, moving, moving. The evening-length work takes place within a defined square of light on the floor, although sometimes the dance spills over into the dimmer edges of the stage. Gat’s dancers move in exquisitely tuned counterpoint, flocking as a loose group from one corner to another. They move with a smooth control, a sense of tumble and flow, as if they are being blown by the wind, or an incoming wave. The group movement is arranged with a satisfying amount of variation in their level, shape, and facing, so that it looks almost random, but with too many brief but real connections to not be choreographed.

There is a curious pedestrian quality to the dance, although it is not usually evident in the long-limbed, gestural movement. The dancers wear a collection of non-descript pants and shirts, with one woman in a dress, and two women in matching black shorts and white shirts. A few are barefoot, some wear socks, and others are in sneakers.

They turn their gazes on each other nonchalantly, and sometimes move past each other with a casual hand on the back or shoulder—a momentary reminder of their human connection. Otherwise, the connections that are read in their interactions are created by the structure of the choreography, not any emotional expression or even particular meaning in the movement itself. After the initial whole group work, the dancers take the stage in trios and duets; the audience can create relationships in these small group sections, but they can also be seen as pure movement exploration—how does this phrase intersect in space with this other set of movement?

In addition to the choreography, Gat has designed the lights and composed the musical score, which includes subtle piano and big swells of more electronic sounds. A large middle portion of the dance is in silence. For the most part, the changes in the music do not affect the dance or dancers in any discernable way; rather, it remains atmospheric as the dance flows on.

Although there are surely variations of certain set phrases, the dance mostly looks like one new movement after another, which begins to be overwhelming to the eye and the mind. The distinct moments, as fresh as they might be at the time, are virtually unpunctuated, and begin to blur.

Certainly, Gat presents us with a wealth of possibilities from which to draw morsels that resonate. A tightly wound and shifting clump of dancers enters, each of them resting a hand on two others; the placement of the hands keeps changing—ankle, top of head, nape of neck—as do the subtle implications of each location of contact. Amala Dianor, who started as a hip-hop dancer, skims the floor with a delightful buoyancy, movement impulses rippling up through his torso. Fiona Jopp’s final slicing solo that ends, so satisfyingly, on the music’s resolving chord.

In the end, there are simply too many possibilities to attend to with full attention. A shorter version of the dance would allow for more consistent engagement. But perhaps the blurring and the overwhelming flow of the dance is the point. Perhaps this dance speaks of a world where moments of precision and beauty cannot be held for too long, where new ideas tumble one over the other; one where we must all keep moving or be moved; one in which we travel alongside one another, and sometimes, we connect.

Anne Morris, 2011

Rosie Returns

Rosie Herrera returned to ADF a few weeks ago, with a revamped "Pity Party" that premiered at last year's festival, and the new "Dining Alone," which was commissioned by ADF.
It has been such a privilege to watch the progression of her work over the last three years, and get to see it develop and her visions clarify. It was a thrilling evening, as usual.
Here's an excerpt from my review for World Dance Reviews:

It's their party, and they'll cry, laugh, dance, stomp, and sing if they want to: Rosie Herrera's dancers at ADF

The magic is still alive as Rosie Herrera returns to the Reynolds Industries Theater for the third year in a row with her particular, quirky brand of dance theater. She has become a festival favorite in recent years, for the surreal, wild, and touching landscapes she creates in her dances. Her now familiar style--collecting separate, vivid scenes into a dramatic mosaic--serves her well, displaying her sense of comic timing and emotional resonance to full effect. The scenes--bizarre, uncomfortable, poignant, startling--don't always make sense in isolation, but together, they take on a complex significance. The two works on this evening's program both deal in some way with love, human connection, and hope; love is messy, both dances declare, and the things we do to get it and keep it, the things we do when love is over, are absurd and funny and heartbreaking.

Herrera's new work, "Dining Alone," is sparer and has a more serious tone than some of her other recent works. It is a truly beautiful collection of highly concentrated images, rather like a series of poems. The opening image starts before the lights come up, with a rush of bodies running offstage in the darkness, followed by the clatter and wobble of spinning plates. The lights come up briefly on the spinning plates, which frame a pathway through which Herrera walks, her long white dress glowing in the half-light. It is a quick moment--the lights go dark again as the plates settle and fall--but rather astonishing.

You can read the rest of the review here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

DCDC and Evidence at ADF

Last week, two companies, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and Ronald K. Brown's Evidence dance company, shared a program at ADF. Both are rooted in the African American and African-diasporic experience, both celebrate history and tradition, even while they are working primarily in the realm of contemporary dance. Both sets of dancers are clearly highly trained, and can capture both large, whole-body movements and more subtle details. Aesthetically, however, they are quite different. At least in the particular dances I saw, the DCDC dancers had a more classical attack of the movement, a muscle-bound groundedness and simultaneous lift. The Evidence cast, on the other hand, performed with a sort of studied casualness, an easy bounce and sink. They often seemed to be jamming to the music rather than performing with intention.

Although I hadn't seen either company live, and had only seen excerpts of recorded works, I'd heard a great deal about Evidence--all glowing reviews. I was surprised, then, to be rather disappointed with the work they presented.

Here's an excerpt from my review:

The American Dance Festival's season theme, Something New, Something Treasured, was clearly captured by the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) and Ronald K. Brown's company Evidence in a shared program at the Durham Performing Arts Center. Each company presented two works, a mix of classic and newer works, all performed with fervor and dedication. The physicality of the body was front and center, prompting me to think about how meaning is embedded in the body itself; how the body is held and used and trained, how it speaks of dance's history, and its own, and points to its future.

DCDC opened the program with Donald McKayle's classic "Rainbow 'Round My Shoulder" (1959), which depicts the harsh life of working on a chain gang. Set to a collection of traditional chain gang songs, the dance is tightly structured, and follows both the rhythm and emotional content of the music. Muscles tense and bound, the six men move together crisply. Their bodies are sledgehammers, powerful and weighted; swung away, but brought down with sharp control and precision. In their exhaustion, a vision of a woman appears to them, alternately a flirtatious sweetheart, a worried mother, and a caring wife. The dancers communicate their passion, anger, perseverance, and despair with a larger-than-life expressivity, leaving no room for ambiguity.

For more about DCDC and Evidence, read the full review here.

My last official review of the season is coming soon, as I review Rosie Herrera, one of my recent favorites. I hope to get to a few of the ADF shows in July, and will post reviews here if I do.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Animal Lost

I've been thinking all week about a very strange dance that I saw at ADF last week. Choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf brought their work, "Animal Lost", to Duke. You can watch a trailer for the dance here (and check out some of their other work, too).
As I was watching the dance, I was wondering how I could find words to describe its mix of the truly weird and interesting and profound and ridiculous. Here are a few excerpts of my attempt:

"Animal Lost," by choreographers Yossi Berg and Oded Graf is a strange bird of a dance - and "did I mention zebras, tigers and my lollipops?" The dance begins with this line, within a nonsensical poem recited by a tall, leggy woman who soon dons a horse mask and tells corny horse jokes into a microphone. Complete with a menagerie of animal masks, water guns, pop songs, and remarkable dancing, this bold and bizarre work offers both nonsense and sensuality, ridiculous situations and undeniable truth.

Berg and Graf, collaborators since 2005, have developed an international reputation for creating dances that are provocative and powerful. "Animal Lost," created in 2010, is no exception. It takes risks - and most of them work - as it tackles the loaded subjects of identity and sexuality with humor and a focused intensity.


The partnering is brilliantly odd. As the dancers wrap around and fit into and through each other's bodies, the parts don't fit neatly, though they always find a way to join. They poke and skim and slice and burrow, ricocheting away and then melting into their partner. These couplings are awkward, sometimes almost violent, other times bordering on tender. Their urgency seems infused by a sort of animal desire - raw and blind and confused--but it's hard to say these are sexy duets. It's not pretty, but there is room for a strange beauty in the reality that is revealed about the way they - we - come together.

Read the rest of the review here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Time for another season

It's summer again, which means it's time for the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC. Again this year, I have the privilege to review some of the performances at the Festival for World Dance Reviews.

So far, I've published two reviews, one of the opening Gala performance, and one on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker's "Rosas Danst Rosas."
Here's an excerpt from the Gala review:

Looking Back and Moving Forward: The American Dance Festival's opening Gala honors Charles L. Reinhart

The American Dance Festival opened its 78th season at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Thursday, with a special Gala performance honoring the 43 years of leadership by ADF Director Charles L. Reinhart. Reinhart will step down as director after this season, and a large crowd turned out to celebrate his legacy with the ADF.

Four and a half dance works (Mark Dendy's "I am a Dancer" was mostly talking) were featured on the program, interspersed with a video chronicling Reinhart's life and career and remarks by Durham Mayor Bill Bell, Executive Vice President of Duke University Dr. Tallman Trask, III, ADF co-director Jodee Nimerichter, and Reinhart himself. Diverse in style and attitude, the dances exposed different faces of the modern dance genre, as seen at the ADF. "Is this what it means to be a modern dancer," they seemed to ask. "Is this what it means to dance?"

Read the whole review here.

And here's an excerpt of "Rosas":

"Rosas" is a work of sharp contrast as well as subtle shadings. The lights and music are often abruptly switched on or off, and the dancers snap into their movement with precision. It is at once dramatic and monotonous, universal and mundane. The bold lighting and music gives it theatrical drama, but the dance is also about the drama in tossing hair and crossed knees, in a bared shoulder and the flicker of a smile.

As the house lights dim, a ticking music begins, sort of a mechanical heartbeat. As the dancers enter, the music gets louder and louder, to the point of real discomfort. Suddenly, the music is cut off, and the silence that follows feels particularly quiet in contrast. The four women have fallen to the floor, and they lie there for a long time while we consider them, listening to the silence, to our own breath that we are carefully holding. They begin a movement phrase that rolls, pauses, flops, and curls, first slowly, then gradually developing in speed and rhythmic complexity. Their poses of rest - lying as if sleeping on their sides, a hand languidly tracing an arc on the floor above their head, the forehead resting in the palm - are belied by the sharpness with which they lift their heads to look at something: these women are always alert.

Read the full review here.

More to come...