Danspace Project Platform 2015: “Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets”
June 12, 2015
Danspace Project invited several artists and practitioners from our community to participate as Respondents in a series of written reflections on Platform 2015: Dancers, Buildings and People in the Streets. This series shares a wide range of perspectives on the Platform’s events. Below, Platform curator Claudia La Rocco shares a look back at February and March. For more background on the Platform, read La Rocco’s curatorial statement here. Below, Nicole Birmann Bloom shares her impressions from four Platform events. Share your comments on our Facebook page!
Inspired by the writings of the poet and dance critic Edwin Denby, and artists’ affiliations with Balanchine-Cunningham-Judson Dance Theater, the winter Danspace Platform ran for two months at a well balanced pace. Curated by Claudia La Rocco, a poet and a dance critic herself, it brought together several artists working as pairs and some guests for a series of performances, workshops, talks, and a catalogue of essays.
As Claudia herself said at a presentation, she had no idea what these pairings would come up with, whether it would work or not…but her curiosity was what motivated her and I was curious about the confrontation also. At a time where many models for the art of dance are being re-evaluated, the exploration was thrilling.
It started first with a reading of Edwin Denby’s poems. Denby as a source of inspiration, the way he looked at the dance (title of one of his books): I was transported. I read Denby’s dance writings such as “Notes on Nijinsky Photographs.” I knew the photos well and Denby’s lines about Nijinsky’s expressive neck were like a movie camera going down the arm, circling the torso, then around the thighs…awesome and erotic.
The affiliations suggested by Claudia La Rocco, Balanchine-Cunningham-Judson were clear throughout the series while the downtown/uptown route was fortunately blurry avoiding any preconceptions of the work. The door was open for thoughts and imagination.
I experienced traveling through time, through memories and strongly felt reverence for all the people, these people, altogether who made and who make history.
I attended three Dance Dialogues and one workshop and nicknamed them based on what I experienced:
First: Solitude and the Possibility of Being
Second: Night, Sun, and Earthquake
February 19th – DANCE DIALOGUE I
Four highly trained dancers and solitude.
#loveyoumeanit, parts I and II or a courtship dance, or better, a written courteous exchange between Kaitlyn Gilliland, an ex-NYC Ballet dancer using emoji ideograms abundantly to express herself, whimsical, looking for love, obsessed, and Will Rawls, a downtown performer and artist, good-natured, relaxed. They are both muses to each other; they play to each other and it is amusing to us. Amidst their games I see solitude.
The second dance without title pairs Silas Riener, dancer, choreographer (and ex-Cunningham company member), with Adrian Danchig-Waring, from the NYC Ballet, the later only visible on a film dancing with Silas in an identical pas de deux; Silas instead is well present and enters the stage as a virtuosic interpreter, one immediately notices his one-piece too large costume, a bit like a student uniform, the top beige with a hood, the bottom black – by the costume designer Reid Bartelme – in the series of movement perfectly and playfully executed, there is a vague reminiscence of Cunningham. One can trace a mischievous light in him preparing us for what is next: getting rid of his student costume, the dancer appears dressed in a bathing suit whose top ends below the breast with blue, grey, green patterns, long dreadlocks and a headset; one looks puzzled as the dancer reveals his body and his feminine traits. The quality of the movements changes, becoming more sensual. “It is me” he seems to say. “It is me.”
Solitude, One and Unique: Possible.
March 5, 2015 – DANCE DIALOGUE II
He and she embrace each other, and fall on the floor – death
She poisons herself and dies – Juliette
She jumps at his neck, he and she embrace each other, fall on the floor – death
She runs and falls on the floor, drops dead – lost love
This is a strong introduction for and with dancers who, as in the first dialogue, definitely know something about movement and acting. The evening features drama with subtlety and play.
Then follows a duet between Jodi Melnick and Sterling Hyltin – duration 7-ish minutes says the program. They are both delicate and sensitive. I don’t see much in their dances, it seems they both stay very close to what their bodies know and have experienced, but watching Sterling‘s long arms is captivating and troubling; they are not exactly graceful, but they are dramatic, carrying emotions. With Jodi, it is more her feet and fingers, they seem fragile contrasting with the darkness in her body but they create immediate connection, like invisible vibrations.
Something that kept on running through my mind while watching them was that they almost look alike one smaller than the other; the anxiety in their faces and tiny, piercing eyes are striking.
What attracted Claudia La Rocco in pairing these two women, what did she see? I asked myself, did she see what I saw: their dramatic bodies.
The two other dancers were Sara Mearns and Rashaun Mitchell. If Jodi and Sterling are like the light in the night, Rashaun and Sara are like the fire under a bright sun. No boundaries here. They are both such a force. All St. Mark’s church’s walls were melting.
There is an interesting duet again when Sterling is teaching Jodi an excerpt of La Sonnambula based upon a text by Allegra Kent. This is a funny part, with Jodi letting herself loose, with enough abandon and control to make us laugh.
The four are reunited for a game of chance that no one will take seriously with short moments of dance in different corners of St. Mark’s, punctuated with readings of James Waring. Reverence in the church.
Then a series of duets and solos, unleashed, follows ending with Rashaun with four (was it five?) chairs entangled in between his arms, neck and legs – the dance people certainly make a connection with the Cunningham’s solo with a chair. Rashaun carries the chairs that obviously obstruct him but doesn’t prevent him from moving from up to down. It is the sorcerer’s dance. Sara has a solo too. Wild: she turns, kicks her legs up and up, bends, curves. I may be wrong but I feel her shy even through her smile.
Night, Sun, and Earthquake.
I enjoyed tremendously seeing these immensely talented artists performing.
A question kept on running in my mind: what could and would dancers do with such intelligent and skilled bodies?
There are many answers to this question as these dialogues proved it.
My interrogation (if not a quest) had one clear answer with Incarnations (Sketches for A Longer Work), a duet between the dancer Emily Coates and the physicist Sarah Demers.
March 21st – DANCE DIALOGUE III
Emily Coates, pregnant, explores Newton’s laws and Einstein’s theory of relativity with the particle physicist Sarah Demers, first through the practice of the ballet fourth position re-imagined by Balanchine, then through the choreography Apollo by Balanchine, based on the interpretation of the dancer Jacques D’Amboise.
The work is brilliant and captivating. Physics and Dance: the precision in the details, the description of the body placement, the gravity and the weight, and the cleverness and brilliance reminded me of Denby’s descriptions in “Notes on Nijinsky Photographs”.
The second one between Jillian Peña, a media artist and Troy Schumacher, a dancer at NYC Ballet and choreographer, was like a couple quarreling about prejudices about uptown and downtown dance: Jillian fierce, and Troy, sticking to what he knows: how to make a dance. They create a dance interpreted by Cassie Mey and Kaitlyn Gilliland – two powerful ballet dancers – it is well composed; they did work together, but it remained polite.
The third pair of that evening was Yve Laris Cohen and D’Anser, present in the dismantling of an entire wooden floor set in St. Mark’s Church – I learned from the program that D’Anser is the touring sub-floor for the NYC Ballet. Thinking of the floor supporting generations of bodies jumping, gliding, and tap dancing, one pays homage to the craft behind it (the program says that the floor is sprung with a basketweave of wooden battens).
March 13th and 20th: YVONNE RAINER’s TRIO A WORKSHOP
Pedestrian qualities and memories of dance.
To learn and experience Rainer’s Trio A (from The Mind is a Muscle) from Emily Coates, then from Yvonne herself was a challenging moment.
Weight down, attention up! Open your mind!
The movements look simple. The pedestrian qualities look simple. However it is all but simple.
Right leg in front of the left with the right foot turned in, clinched fist, eyes looking the other way from the direction of the turned-in foot. My body, my brain, wants to do the exact opposite. I insist on doing it, surprised by the many associations with dance styles passing through the movements: an arabesque with a soft touch of the wrist on the forehead, elbow down, reminds me of a ballet movement. Hands clutched in front of the chest, one leg up, and it is Martha Graham. A straight line of the arm, an extended leg, and Merce pops up. An inward foot, the eyes the other way, and it is The Rite of Spring by Nijinsky. The history of dance is running through my mind while I wonder about the complexities of the many directions of the phrase.
Surrounded by high school and college students, and some professional dancers, I cannot do it; I try counting. No, it doesn’t work. I need more time; a bit choked by my weakness, some anxious thoughts about aging, about memory loss, cross my mind.
Yvonne, she was doing it, rolling on the floor, explaining the direction.
As Yvonne herself said, she composed the combination while questioning narcissism, frontal dance – the norm either in Ballet or in modern dance – eliminating any specific stories, a kind of minimalism, fundamental concepts that are still influencing many artists today.
The many directions remained extremely difficult for me to apprehend, and I asked her: why? She answered: to go against predictability!
Yvonne’s answer is now engraved in my memory.