Keely Garfield Dance
Keely Garfield Dance
Danspace Project at
St. Mark’s Church, NYC
March 26–28, 2009
Reviewed by Siobhan Burke
Garfield in the midst of her
First Attempt. Photo by
Cyrus Ra, courtesy Garfield.
Near the beginning of Keely Garfield’s latest trilogy, two performers lead us in a countdown to liftoff. It’s a fitting launch to the three works ahead, which amount to a compelling ride through Garfield’s turbulent imagination. With her talent for telling an exquisitely twisted story, Garfield steers us through episodes both glimmering and grim, way-out-there yet close to home. We emerge a bit unsettled but moved, as if from the scenes of an unshakeable dream.
First Attempt stars Garfield as a cross between strung-out popstar and captain of a voyage into outer-space, lost in what looks like a post-apocalyptic suburban backyard. The clutter around her (with the exception of sidekicks Brandin Steffensen and Omagbitse Omagbemi) is 100 percent synthetic, from her Astroturf landing, to her pleather pants, to the stuffed bulldog perched beside her yellow lawn chair.
In this man-made-and-ruined universe, Garfield appears to be searching for signs of life—human, animal, divine––though at first she seems pretty empty herself. Stirring to consciousness from a heap on the floor, she swaggers, struts, and sprawls about, narrating her journey through the lines of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” Her antics––sticking a toaster plug in her mouth, cradling a garden gnome––combine the exhibitionism of a reality TV star with the attention span of an over-stimulated child. But a few deliberate movement phrases suggest she is, indeed, on an earnest quest. She gives us hand signals––“stop,” “OK,” “come here”––and stirs the air with her palms, as if conjuring a spell. When she slowly lifts up her T-shirt (“As Seen on MySpace,” it reads) and twists the fabric around her arm like a sling, it’s like an admission of her lonely, vulnerable state. The refrain of a song by Death Cab for Cutie, “I need you so much closer,” drives her message home.
In Eva Potranspiration/Cloud 9, Garfield, Steffensen, and Vivian Ra (Garfield’s 8-year-old daughter) transport us to another suburban realm: the nuclear family in its precariously happy home, complete with ironing board and leather office chair. Whatever sinister currents are lurking beneath this household’s surface, Garfield’s inner evangelist comes out to fight them. Fashioning a bright white cross from two fluorescent light-bulbs, she wields it at the handsome, sweater-vest-clad Steffensen. But in the closing moments, it’s Ra who emerges as an eerie emblem of salvation, as Steffensen lifts her into a fragile crucifixion pose beneath the arched entryway to St. Mark’s Church. Matthew Brookshire strums on a ukulele, his sweet melodies intermingling with the darker shades of this tale.
The theme of “needing you closer” returns in Limerence, which comes to us through the ever-shifting glow of Jonathan Belcher’s movable onstage lights. In a duet between Garfield and Omagbemi, intense desire somehow manifests through reckless, half-hearted gesture. One woman spits into her palms, then rubs them over the other’s body; when one falls, the other tries picking her up, but both end up back on the ground. In a passage that sears through the piece with its simplicity, the two crawl diagonally downstage in unison, shoulders shifting and heads bowed, conveying both an intuitive bond and an unbridgeable distance. Later, Steffensen and Garfield continue the dance of injuring and nurturing, of clutching and shrugging off.
But this endlessly quarreling pair also wants to soar away together, and when they do, it’s downright beautiful. A stationary bike has been awaiting them stage left; with Steffensen pedaling and Garfield standing tall on the silver seat, their bodies dissolve into darkness, their silhouettes floating upward against a ceiling of brilliant, kaleidoscopic light. Back here on planet Earth, we wish we could go with them.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
Memorial Day is notoriously one of Chicago's bloodiest weekends. Last year, 36 people were shot and seven died that weekend. In 2017 and 2016, the number of shootings was even higher.
When Garley "GiGi Tonyé" Briggs, a dance teacher and Chicago native, started noticing this pattern, she was preparing her second annual Memorial Day workshop for local youth.
The event's original aim was simple: "I wanted the youth of Chicago to have somewhere they could come and learn from different dancers and be off the streets on the South Side on this hot holiday," she says.
A recent trip I took to Nashville coincided with the NFL draft. As we drove into town, my Uber driver was a fount of information on the subject.
I learned that there are 32 NFL teams and that the draft takes place over seven rounds. That the team that did the poorest during the previous season gets first pick. That during an earlier event called the scouting combine, the teams assess college football players and figure out who they want.
There is also the veteran combine for "free agents"—players who have been released from their contracts or whose contracts have expired. They might be very good players, but their team needs younger members or ones with a certain skill set. All year round, experienced NFL scouts scan games across the country, checking out players and feeding that information back to the teams. Players' agents keep their eyes on opportunities for their clients which might be more rewarding.
While I sat in the traffic of 600,000 NFL fans I got thinking, is there something ballet could learn from football? Could a draft system improve young dancers' prospects and overall company caliber and contentment?
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Despite what you might think, there's no reason for dancers to be afraid of bread.
"It's looked at as this evil food," says New York State–certified dietitian and former dancer Tiffany Mendell. But the truth is, unless you have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance, bread can be a healthy source of carbohydrates—our body's preferred fuel—plus fiber and vitamins.
The key is choosing your loaf wisely.
It can be hard to imagine life without—or just after—dance. Perhaps that's why we find it so fascinating to hear what our favorite dancers think they'd be doing if they weren't performing for a living.
We've been asking stars about the alternate career they'd like to try in our "Spotlight" Q&A series, and their answers—from the unexpected to the predictable—do not disappoint:
"New York City Ballet star appears in a Keanu Reeves action movie" is not a sentence we ever thought we'd write. But moviegoers seeing John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum will be treated to two scenes featuring soloist Unity Phelan dancing choreography by colleague Tiler Peck. The guns-blazing popcorn flick cast Phelan as a ballerina who also happens to be training to become an elite assassin. Opens in theaters May 17.
The Brooklyn-based choreographer Gillian Walsh is both obsessed with and deeply conflicted about dance. With her latest work, Fame Notions, May 17–19 at Performance Space New York, she seeks to understand what she calls the "fundamentally pessimistic or alienating pursuit" of being a dancer. Noting that the piece is "quiet and introverted," like much of her other work, she sees Fame Notions as one step in a larger project examining why dancers dance.
What does Mikhail Baryshnikov have to say to dancers starting their careers today? On Friday, he gave the keynote speech during the graduation ceremony for the inaugural class of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
The heart of his message: Be generous.
Launching a dancewear line seems like a great way for professional dancers to flex new artistic muscles and make side money. Several direct-to-consumer brands founded by current or former professional dancers, like Elevé and Luckleo, currently compete with bigger retailers, like Capezio.
But turning your brand into the next Yumiko is more challenging than some budding designers may realize.
When I first came to dance criticism in the 1970s, the professional critics were predominantly much older than me. I didn't know them personally and, as the wide-eyed new kid on the block, I assumed most had little or no physical training in the art.
As slightly intimidated as I felt at the time—you try sitting around a conference room table with Dance Magazine heavy hitters like Tobi Tobias and David Vaughan—I smugly gave myself props for at least having had recent brushes with ballet, Graham, Duncan and Ailey and more substantial engagement with jazz and belly dance. Watching dancers onstage, I enjoyed memories of steps and moves I knew in my own bones. If the music was right, my shoulders would wriggle. I wasn't just coolly judging things from my neck up.