Dancer/choreographer Nora Chipaumire is known to confront racial and gender stereotypes in her work. A former member of Urban Bush Women, she learned to tell stories with movement as well as words, in a way that commands the attention of her audience. In her new duet performance #PUNK, part of the Crossing the Line Festival, she envisions the 1980s American punk scene while also delving into memories of her childhood in Zimbabwe. In this episode of "What Wendy's Watching", we visit the French Institute Alliance Française, which is where the piece has its American premiere, Sept 14-15, 2017.
In this "Choreography in Focus," choreographer Ralph Lemon chats with Wendy Perron about the early downtown New York dance scene, his experience at the White House and how he approaches making a new work.
Over 150 years ago, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation; 20 years ago, Nelson Mandela helped end apartheid in South Africa. New York Live Arts resident artist Kyle Abraham will premiere three works—a feat that would exhaust even the most seasoned choreographers—inspired by both momentous events. The Watershed, an evening-length piece, explores today’s freedoms, and the mixed-rep program, When the Wolves Came In, takes inspiration from jazz musician Max Roach’s 1960 protest album We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite. We’re in for a treat, as the performances promise plenty of dancing by Abraham himself. Not even the skilled movers of Abraham.In.Motion can quite grasp his fleeting, run-on sentences of movement like he can. Sept. 23–Oct. 4. newyorklivearts.org.
Above: Jordan Morley and Tamisha Guy in When the Wolves Came In. Photo by Carrie Schneider, Courtesy New York Live Arts.
With a Twist
Twisted: a Trio of Excellence will gather more than 200 artists from BalletMet, Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony and Chorus. The resulting revue samples opera’s greatest works, from La Bohème to The Magic Flute to Carmen. Some of the performance’s intrigue is its sheer spectacle, but it also has the choreographic chops to back it up: contemporaries Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong, Edwaard Liang, James Kudelka and BalletMet dancer Jimmy Orrante will choreograph to the opera excerpts. Ohio Theatre, Sept. 25–28. balletmet.org.
Right: Adrienne Benz and David Ward in rehearsal. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.
The House That Ralph Built
The next stage for interdisciplinary performance artist Ralph Lemon’s work isn’t a stage at all, but a two-story structure in a gallery at the Walker Arts Center. Scaffold Room, which Lemon describes as a “lecture-performance-musical,” questions what qualifies as contemporary performance. Performers Okwui Okpokwasili and April Matthis will enact female historical and pop culture figures, from standup comedian Moms Mabley to singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. Also on display is Lemon’s sound and image installation Meditation, which was the final piece to his multi-year exploration How Can You Stay in the House All Day and Not Go Anywhere? After the work premieres in his hometown of Minneapolis, Sept. 25–28, it will tour the U.S. walkerart.org.
Above: Scaffold Room. Photo by Ralph Lemon, Courtesy Walker.
After years of choreographing plotless works, Helen Pickett has begun experimenting with narrative. Her latest: The Crucible, commissioned by Scottish Ballet, is based on Arthur Miller’s emotionally riveting 1953 play about the 17th-century Salem witch trials. Pickett has applied her Forsythe-flavored physical explorations to character portrayal by asking questions like, “How does it feel in the spine when this character is accused?” Also on the bill is Ten Poems, Christopher Bruce’s tribute to poet Dylan Thomas. Quite a literary evening! Theatre Royal, Sept. 25–27, and touring. scottishballet.co.uk.
Above: Victor Zarallo in a Pickett rehearsal. Photo by Andy Ross, Courtesy Scottish Ballet.
This month, Hope Mohr Dance’s Bridge Project will celebrate Anna Halprin and Simone Forti. It’s a rare opportunity to see these foremothers of postmodern dance perform live: In her 1999 solo The Courtesan and the Crone, Halprin shuttles from youth to old age. And Forti, prompted by nothing but the whims of her mind in motion, will dance one of her uncanny word-and-movement improvisations. Also on the program is Mohr in Lucinda Childs’ absurdist solo Carnation (1964) and Peiling Kao in a new work by Mohr. Joe Goode Annex, Sept. 26–27. hopemohr.org.
Above: Simone Forti. Photo by Carol Peterson, Courtesy Hope Mohr Dance.
It’s hard to wrap your mind around the many forms of Wayne McGregor’s brilliance. His work with Wayne McGregor/Random Dance, with The Royal Ballet, with a string of other companies, his educational initiatives, and his collaborations with scientists and artists is perhaps only understandable when you see him dance himself. Though he hasn’t performed in years, his own improvising is astounding to watch. He whips through wild and subtle motions, leading with unlikely parts of the body: the top of the head, the bottom of the rib cage, the tip of an elbow. Extended into couples and groups, his extreme choreography trespasses beyond the “busy” threshold to enter new, sometimes outlandish territory. It can be uncomfortably aggressive or funny-bone odd. It can also be unexpectedly sensual or tender. Whatever the aesthetics, dancers feel stretched by him physically and intellectually. They are hungry for those challenges.
Above: Photos of McGregor by Erik Tomasson.
Above left: Headshot of Perron by Matthew Karas.
Although he’s basically a modern dancer, having studied Limón technique and been influenced by Trisha Brown, McGregor has upped the ante for ballet on an international scale. From San Francisco Ballet to New York City Ballet to the Bolshoi and other companies, his exploding of the ballet vocabulary points a direction toward the future. Concerned less with making beautiful ballets than with stimulating bodies and minds, he surges ahead on all fronts, and ultimately the bracing quality of his movement is a kind of beauty in itself.
For our Choreography Issue, we also bring you dancemakers who are stimulating in a different way: They find it intriguing—or necessary—to bring words into their stage picture. In “Word Play” we interview seven choreographers who are especially adept at the dance-and-text genre. Some would call their work “dance theater,” but others would not answer to that term. These dance artists who grapple with the relation of words to movement include Annie-B Parson, an acclaimed master of the form; Ralph Lemon, a hero of experimental dance; and Sean Dorsey, a 2010 “25 to Watch” in the Bay Area.
And just for fun, Adam Hendrickson, former soloist with New York City Ballet, gripes about the razor touch of the tutu’s edge in “Terrible Tulle.” From the audience, we don’t see the hazards the male dancer faces to make his ballerina look elegant. Ah, the hard life of a cavalier.