NY2Dance // Dance Place, Washington DC // November 13–14, 2010 // Reviewed by Emily Macel Theys
Yatkin's Wallstories. Photo by Yi-Chun Wu. Courtesy Dance Place.
When Nejla Yatkin lifts a finger, the whole room watches in hushed anticipation. For People With Wings opens with Yatkin lying on her back in a pile of black tulle and feathers. Her head is downstage, and her arms are expanded like wings. With very little movement she creates a scene that looks like it could be a projection of a black and white film, showing frame-by-frame the control and range of her wingspan. When she rises from the floor, the feathers are sent off in all directions. Her legs and torso have just as much if not more control than her muscular arms, and the piece becomes a duet with the layers upon layers of tulle. A woman in a tutu is so much more for Yatkin: It’s a love affair, a struggle against nature, a choice between being covered up and revealing it all. Eventually she strips herself of the tutu, and rises out of the now lifeless fabric. Strong and powerful yet feminine and ethereal, she is surely the kind of muse the sculptor had in mind when creating the Winged Victory.
Wings was made in 2000, the first year of NY2Dance. For this 10th-anniversary season, Yatkin showed a range of her work from the last decade. In Journey to the One, a Tango (2004), her company dances in progressively smaller groups—five women move giddily and cattily about a bouquet of roses, four men strut to show off, a trio represents a love triangle that blends into a duet between lovers. Finally Yatkin returns to the stage to again show us that fabric—this time bright red satin—can be a powerful and gripping partner. Her company members appeared younger and less experienced than Yatkin, but a few showed sparks of Nejla’s passion, particularly Emily Schoen and Ahmaud Culver in their heated duet.
The final work for the evening was Wallstories (2009), an hour-long ode to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Using songs from Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” album, eight dancers take the audience through the history surrounding the Berlin Wall’s creation and downfall. Images of Germany and oral histories of those who experienced hardship because of the Wall created a visual backdrop and soundscape.
What’s most apparent from this journey is how Yatkin’s choreography has matured. She is able to blend cold militaristic movements with youthful dancing. The dancers represent the teenagers of Germany in the 1980s and 90s who grew up in the time of division and conflict, which is what Yatkin herself experienced growing up in Berlin. There were a number of stand-out moments: Yatkin’s take on running, literally, up the wall of the stage (while this motif has appeared in several works before Wallstories, the dancers here accomplished it with palpable ferocity, symbolic of resistance to The Wall); the tender duets where women cover their male counterparts with handkerchiefs; and a solo where a dancer moves about a central square of light, while the others slowly walk backwards from the edges of the stage, eventually enclosing him inside of their wall of bodies. Again Schoen was memorable for her precision, control, and intensity. In the end, she and Yatkin dance a duet across a wide distance, Schoen onstage while Yatkin rises up out of a seat in the house. They are breaking down yet another wall—the one between the dancers and the audience.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.