2014 is Off to a Smashing Start

posted by Jennifer Stahl on Thursday, Jan 30, 2014
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Beth Gill's dancers rehease New Work for the Desert. Photo via MANCC by Chris Cameron, courtesy Gill.

Polar vortexes be damned: Dancers have been creating serious heat all over New York this month. While the rest of the city treated January like a month-long hangover from the holidays, the dance scene kicked off 2014 with a bang.

Of course, it all started with APAP, the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference where troupes strut their stuff for decision-makers from venues across the country. The sheer range of talent on display during these five days of showcases is always jaw-dropping. But for all the flash and quirkiness and developpés, the highlight for me was a 20-minute work-in-progress showing of Beth Gill's New Work for the Desert. Her thoughtful, inventive post modern choreography has little surprises that never feel gratuitous—they somehow all work together to evoke a desert. I couldn't quite tell you how she creates the effect, but having genius dancers like Marilyn Maywald and Jennifer Lafferty can't hurt.

Most of the buzz, however, was dominated by the American Realness Festival, APAP's scrappier downtown cousin. A must-read: former Dance Magazine editor Siobhan Burke's take on performance artist Ann Liv Young leaving the audience during Rebecca Patek's ineter(a)nal f/ear to march across the stage and bark insults at the performers. (No, Young was not part of the show).

New York City Ballet also had everyone talking about its brilliant installation by Parisian street artist JR. NYCB inaugurated their Art Series last year, but this time, the artist integrated the dancers into the work—and the audience, too, inviting us to interact with the photos of dancers splayed along the atrium floor. A hike up to the fourth ring revealed—surprise!—the bodies sculpted into the shape of an eye. $29 tickets drew a full house of hipsters to last Thursday's show, which ended with free beers and a DJ. Lincoln Center way out-hipped any party in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg that night. 

Also awe-inspiring this month: the beautifully long and languid former NYCB-er Kaitlyn Gilliland, performing with Michele Wiles' Ballet Next; the fierce Dinita Askew and trickster Shafeek Westbrook with Rennie Harris Puremovement; and Jaqlin Medlock, Stephen Petronio Company's charming powerhouse.

The last thing on my January calendar? Queen of the Night, the new extravaganza from the creators of Sleep No More starring Graham diva Katherine Crockett. It's billed as a "dark debutante ball." I can't imagine a more epic grand finale to a fantastic month.