Momentum: New Dance Works
Momentum: New Dance Works
The Southern Theater
July 16–25, 2009
Reviewed by Linda Shapiro
Paramount to My Footage. Photo by Cameron Wittig, Courtesy Walker Art Center.
This year’s Momentum: New Dance Works series tackled issues of self revelation, romantic tragedy, and the collective power of the masses. Four emerging choreographers shared two weekends in an annual event co-sponsored by Walker Art Center and The Southern Theater.
In Vanessa Voskuil’s en masse, 69 civilians of diverse genders, ethnicities, and ages cycle through a shifting current of pedestrian gestures. Through sections of jogging, swaying, milling, and surging, the crowd mutates from a propulsive mass to an anarchic free-for-all. The piece unfolds with a steadily evolving dynamism that’s never predictable, its population like a giant organism seeking a higher purpose. There’s a constant tension between sweeping choral movement and an ornery yen for autonomy, which these performers achieve through intense inner focus combined with a sensate awareness of one another. At one point they form couples who sway together, slow dancing while gazing pensively off into the distance.
Sachiko Nishiuchi’s The Apple Tree, loosely based on a novel by John Galsworthy, places flamenco in the service of vague scenarios through which six dancers passionately wander. Two women (Nishiuchi and Laura Horn, identified respectively as “a girl” and “the apple tree”) alternate yearning gestures with exuberant outbursts of flamenco. A man (Edwin Suarez) seems to desire the girl, but is lured away by several friends. Despite some West Side Story shenanigans by the guys and impudent dancing by Nishiuchi, stylistic and narrative confusion abounds.
In Megan Mayer’s I could not Stand Close Enough to You, five performers try on personas: smiley ingénues, he-men, celebrities, party girls. These are extreme geeks, stuffing themselves with other lives; you could easily imagine them hunkered down somewhere, inventing Facebook. The ambiance is 1960s–70s, with (unaccredited) music and routines by the likes of Elvis Presley, Desi Arnaz, and the Smothers Brothers. In a series of skits reminiscent of an old TV variety show, each dancer performs an eccentric solo around which the others congregate. Mayer lip synchs with Presley’s “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” then collapses. Two women take her pulse. Charles Campbell channels Jerry Lewis in a fervent mambo to Arnaz’s “Babalu.” The group joins him in a snarling finale. Sometimes the jokiness and faux naiveté threaten to overwhelm this slyly nuanced work. But at its best, it’s like a snapshot taken at a party that captures the tentative smile under the funny hat.
Sally Rousse’s autobiographical Paramount to My Footage begins with Rousse swinging from a rope, slamming repeatedly into a movie screen. She wears a plaid cloak with a big silver ”S” on the back. The audacity of this tiny, flinty dancer fuels a drama played over fragmented stories and projected images from Rousse’s life as a ballerina, wife, and mother. Clever theatrical devices give the work a postmodern edge: Several of the 10 excellent performers play Rousse at various points in her life (a young man, Anshul Paranjape, describes in detail the birth of Rousse’s first child); a kind of life coach (Laurie Van Weiren) interviews and cheers her on. Sonja Berlovitz designed the sleek, imaginative costumes, which include fetishistic versions of underwear and kilts. The movement ranges from sensual undulations over balletic limbs to furious petit allegro with gestural overlays. In one very personal scene, Rousse breaks down while playing a harmonica over the body of her first husband, who died of a brain tumor. Then she hurls herself back into a series of petit battements and échappés that slash like daggers. Ballet, it would seem, is both her prison and her refuge.