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Camille A. Brown/Andrea Miller/Kate Weare/Monica Bill Barnes
The Joyce Theater, NYC • August 9–14, 2010 • Reviewed by Eva Yaa Asantewaa
“She pushes them hard,” said a guy behind me at the Joyce, his tone admiring. His friend concurred. Did they mean Gallim Dance’s Andrea Miller? Or Camille A. Brown, the other dancemaker on the program? Kate Weare and Monica Bill Barnes—whose equally remarkable troupes teamed up the following night on the alternate program—could fit that description too.
Miller’s dystopian Wonderland, a world premiere, strips its dozen dancers of civilization’s surface niceties. We fall through Miller’s invisible mirror into a place of floating reverberations: toddlers’ laughter; familiar snippets of The Mickey Mouse Club theme song; brassy, grinding, growling music. Rough-edged denizens—the most threatening and secretly most fearful aspects of our human nature—pull and push at one another, hurtling around like a pack of animals on their way to nothing but trouble. Busby Berkeley arrangements and rave scenarios flare up like acid hallucinations. Rubbery bodies turn this cautionary tale into a contortion-ary one, at once repellent and compelling.
When Brown observes the human condition—and an ensemble of dancers—she sees indomitability. Her excerpt from New Second Line (2006), inspired by post-Katrina New Orleans, sings the energy of rebirth. There’s a flowing ease and simplicity that Brown abandons elsewhere. With the septet Girls Verse 1 (a New York premiere) and City of Rain (a world premiere for 10), the choreographer stuffs phrases with jerky tics. They read like an accelerated film, like visual noise. It’s as if the faster dancers move, the harder it might be for bad luck or floodwaters or even death itself to catch them.
Fans of Brown’s 2007 ensemble piece for Ailey, The Groove to Nobody’s Business, know her strength lies in the specificity of dramatic characters. Two works shown here, as New York premieres, demonstrate this too. She’s in total control of her solo, Good & Grown, set to a dreamy lite-jazz version of “It Was a Very Good Year” by Wes Montgomery and a smokin’ one by Saycon Sengbloh. Though typically busy, the choreographic lines cut clean. Brown makes that empty space around her tough little body seem like a doughy opponent that she’s pinned to the rope. Clever, expert timing makes her comic/romantic duet with Juel D. Lane (Been There, Done That) resonate with audiences, too. She’s clearly Broadway-bound.
Kate Weare’s new Bright Land—with its gorgeous, old-time mountain music performed live by The Crooked Jades—and Monica Bill Barnes’ Another Parade (2009) score knockouts with very different approaches to character.
In a dramatic atmosphere of charged intimacy, Weare introduces us to unidentified characters, and we imagine their stories. First we see them at their strangest as they bounce stiffly against the floor and abruptly cut phrases short. She can toss them together in sensuously weighted momentum and suspension. Or she can shear that sensuality away in a flash, replacing it with rigid gestures as stark as the singers’ gravelly and piercing call-and-response. With superbly gifted dancers—Adrian Clark, Douglas Gillespie, Marlena Penney Oden, and Leslie Kraus—Weare helps us feel the passage of time in a challenging terrain; the gathering, release, and drift of emotional weather among a resilient people.
The key to the entirety of Barnes’ Another Parade, I suspect, is the skinny, gawky, self-conscious girl (Celia Rowlson-Hall) who’s first to venture onto the stage. She’s also the first to bare her belly—twice!—and first to deliver and take a few imaginary blows. So American. She just wants to be out there and be loved. And that’s Barnes, I suspect, pulling everything out farther than it would normally go, anything to get your attention, and making you root for her because of it. Taking impetus from Bach, Bachrach/David and, most hilariously, James Brown, Barnes and her fellow dancers work their butts off to connect with us. Finally tearing down that (fourth) wall, they choose audience members as partners to take onstage for a little shimmy lesson and some slow dancing among the confetti. What’s not to love?
It’s a safe bet that Joyce audiences, rarely adventurous, will bring the noise for dancers giving their last ounce of strength for the cause. Each of these exciting, dedicated troupes did just that—and often more. Because of these four women choreographers, the Joyce now seems a more vibrant place, one capable of embracing innovation.
Yin Mei Dance
Doris Duke Theatre • Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival • August 4–8, 2010 • Reviewed by Rose Anne Thom
In City of Paper, Yin Mei uses copious amounts of white paper to frame the dancing in compelling ways. The two men and two women, costumed simply in gray and black, construct and then interact with their paper environment in a series of discreet scenes while a lone violist, Stephanie Griffin, occasionally meanders onstage, focusing Sam Crawford’s sound design.
Walking backwards to begin the dance, Mei stretches taut an endless sheath of paper, moving from the left wing to the right. Dancers then send rolls of paper unraveling across the stage to create horizontal pathways, or they balance stiffened rectangles of paper in their palms. Kota Yamazaki creates random patterns as he lobs paint at vertical panels suspended above the stage. And, with their backs covered in paint, Kanako Yokota and Dai Jian tumble over a white drop cloth, generating unpredictable designs. (Yamazaki and Jian collaborated with Mei on the choreography.)
Mei’s inspiration for this dance, as described in the program notes, is her native Luoyang, “a city in central China…believed to be the place where the Chinese invented paper…a magnet for scholars, writers and artists.” Through projected images and animation on upstage screens, Mei suggests Luoyang’s demise, the damaging effects of the Cultural Revolution, and the efforts to recapture the city’s identity.
The dancers’ relationships with the paper convey this story rather obliquely. A clearer narrative connection exists between the reiteration of danced phrases and recurring projections of Luoyang’s townspeople at distinct periods of history.
Yamazaki’s first solo, a hyperkinetic, circling eruption, displays the fluid use of the torso and shaping of limbs that are signatures of Mei’s style. The trio that follows, with each dancer progressing horizontally on a paper path, is more contemplative. As they fold gently into the floor, balance on shoulders, and roll about extending their arms and legs, their routine marries sensibilities of tai chi and postmodernism—especially when they loudly crumple up their paper paths. The high points of the piece are synchronized solos for Mei and Yokota that extend this physical exploration. Their arms reach and retract, pelvises languidly revolve, and legs lunge and thrust in a calm series of repetitions that alter ever so slightly until the dancers have exchanged positions in space. Upstage, silhouettes of flying birds complement their deliberate serenity.
The dancers are less effective when they come in contact with one another, as when their bodies create a traveling sculpture, or in a brief duet for Mei and Jian. It’s as solitary figures that they evoke the relationship of artist and paper most poignantly.
Pilobolus Dance Theater
The Joyce Theater, NYC • July 12–August 7, 2010 • Reviewed by Emily Macel
Pilobolus dedicated its three-week run at the Joyce to late cofounder Jonathan Wolken, who died just a month before opening night. Program A included Wolken’s Redline (2009), featuring his high-intensity, fearless style, and three other works with choreography by co-artistic directors Michael Tracy and Robby Barnett.
The evening’s centerpiece was the New York premiere of Hapless Hooligan in “Still Moving” (2010), a graphic novel-meets-silent film collaboration between Tracy and comic artist Art Spiegelman. Inspired by Frederick Burr Opper’s early 20th-century comic Happy Hooligan, the work put Spiegelman’s drawings into motion, with the help of animators Jason Patterson and Dan Abdo.
The story of the ill-fated Hap and his love interest, Lulu (played by Annika Sheaff and Eriko Jimbo), starts out innocently enough. Toward the beginning, most of the action takes place behind a large screen, where the dancers, silhouetted, interact with projected animations, their sizes and proportions distorted by Robert Wierzel’s lighting. Like Harold and the Purple Crayon, items drawn around Hap come to life. A flower grows, then whaps him in the face; a line becomes a box that traps him inside. Then he pushes the line forward and it transforms into a building.
The plot takes a dark turn when Lulu leaves Hap for a menacing hat-and-trench-coat-wearing villain. He forcefully seduces Lulu (in a section subtitled “Sex and Violence Together at Last”), eventually killing her after a burlesque-style dance-fight, which brings the characters out from behind the screen for the first time. Hap is so distraught that he takes his own life (humorously—by throwing a shadow brick into the air and bopping himself on the head) to retrieve Lulu from the underworld.
In a multimedia piece like this, the dancing could easily become secondary to the plot and stage elements. But what Pilobolus does so well is to keep movement in the foreground. Jun Kuribayashi’s leaps are incredible whether in shadow dance or real life; animation can’t match Sheaff’s extensions as she crawls through the air to fight for her life. Throughout all the farce and charade, the choreography pushes the dancers’ bodies to their limits.
And really, that’s what Pilobolus is all about. Michael Tracy’s Symbiosis (2001), performed by Manelich Minniefee and Jenny Mendez, embodies extremes. The two nearly nude dancers move as if through water, with no regard for gravity. Wolken’s Redline challenges the dancers with a blend of martial arts, militaristic movements, and a suspended weight reminiscent of The Matrix.
The evening ended with (2007), which again relied on the cast’s acting skills as much as its dancing. Most memorable was the way in which Winston Dynamite Brown, playing an old man, shuffled through a maze of chairs carrying Sheaff on his shoulders. Eventually Matt Del Rosario and Christopher Whitney slid dozens of chairs across the stage to create a constantly shifting, elevated pathway for Brown to walk on. These kinds of surreal moments, which lift audiences into a dreamworld, are a strong suit of Pilobolus and shone through this season.
Photo of Miller's Wonderland by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Joyce.