Dance Matters: The Ties That Bind Us
The whimsical Oyster comes back stateside.
Oyster is at once circus with a heart, theater with a sharp physical center, and dance with a sly sense of humor. Since 1999, audiences worldwide have gotten happily lost in the beguiling web of this contemporary Israeli classic from choreographers Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak. Oyster returns to America from Jan. 28 to Feb. 11, playing in Cleveland; New Brunswick, New Jersey; Boston; and Philadelphia.
Pinto, who trained as a graphic designer and danced for the Batsheva Dance Company, and Pollak, an accomplished actor, are pleasantly surprised by the show’s longevity. The artistic duo, who collaborate on both movement and overall design, suggest that Oyster’s popularity stems from its ability to “communicate with humanity and cross borders,” says Pinto. Oyster’s vaudevillian ingredients of richly detailed costumes, elaborate music-box set, and a corps of about a dozen quirky characters allow audiences to enter the fantasy. Yet below its playful surface, the work hints at a darker subtext.
Though hardly a review goes by without calling the work “Tim Burton-esque” in its haunting elegance, a less obvious aesthetic and thematic inspiration comes from Freaks, the 1932 film about sideshow performers. The co-directors point out that while a circus generally deals with the unique abilities of its performers, Oyster is more interested in disability and how to present those limitations as entertainment. The show’s cast exhibits an array of sharp, detailed gestures that make all of Pinto and Pollak’s creations wonders of precision.
Ultimately, Oyster offers a way to look at imperfection as a form of beauty, recognizing the forces that shape us and that we simultaneously manipulate. “We’re all part of a big marionette,” says Pinto. “We are controlled by a few strings and we control others. Oyster is a metaphor for those strings of life.”
Noga Harmelin. Photo by Eyal Landesman, Courtesy Pinto Dance
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.