Friday, February 23, 2018

Tatyana Tenenbaum's "Untitled Work for Voice"

Cast of Tatyana Tenenbaum's
Untitled Work for Voice
(photo: Liz Charky)
Choreographer/composer Tatyana Tenenbaum
performs in her work.
(photo: Simon Courchel)

I'm fairly sure I saw Shirley Temple's ghost at St. Mark's Church last night. Long, diaphanous curtains descended from the sanctuary's balcony and draped along the side risers. The faint, spectral image of Hollywood's tapdancing white child star shimmered over the sheer fabric and against the wall near the entrance. At least, I think it was Shirley, her spirit briefly hovering--a blessing? a warning?--before Tatyana Tenenbaum premiered a new, hour-long ensemble piece, Untitled Work for Voice, for Danspace Project.

As the title indicates, the work involves not only movement but vocalization and, indeed, blends the two so much that it becomes clear that, for Tenenbaum, one's entire body, not just one's vocal chords, speaks and sings. I've read an interview where she talks about having lived from the neck up, a way of being she connects to her Jewish heritage (self-described, in her program notes, as white and assimilated). Untitled Work for Voice might offer a series of fitful attempts to break through, not by circumventing her situation but by mining it for any tool that might serve her purpose.

We sometimes hear a single word pronounced as if by dissection: courage rendered as kohr-raj-geh. We watch dancers dryly launch jazz dance (sort of) movement phrases and halt them before the payoff. There are moments of call-and-response that seem, at once, meaninglessly secular; because we are trained to expect beauty and sacredness in this format, we hear sacred beauty. Three of the dancers carry out and rattle thunder sheets--a theatrical device to simulate an awesome force of nature in a place where it is not.

An auburn-haired apparition in a white gown dotted with green pompoms softly mewls and sings and turns and twists in the air. Who or what is she?

Sentences might fragment, or start and get rethought and reset: "We had a fight...no, it wasn't a fight. We had an argument." Each element seems like a desperate grasp or stab at something. And dancers confidently intone made-up lyrics to Glenn Miller's, "A String of Pearls," a World War II swing hit best known as an instrumental. The actual lyrics--I Googled this morning to check--are something else again.

Untitled Work for Voice--perhaps "untitled" because how to settle on something that might keep shifting?--did not seem to be building towards anywhere or anything. But--to my surprise and, admittedly, my relief-- it really did with a swirling, gradually expansive solo for dancing, singing Jules Skloot.

Breakthrough.

Created and performed by Marisa Clementi, Pareena Lim, Emily Moore, Skloot and Tenenbaum
Costume design: Claire Fleury
Lighting design: Kathy Kaufmann

Untitled Work for Voice continues tonight and Saturday with performances at 8pm. There is no late seating. For information and tickets, click here.

Danspace Project
St. Mark's Church-in-the-Bowery
131 East 10th Street (off Second Avenue), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bebe Miller Company and Susan Rethorst make room for process

Gabrielle Revlock and Gregory Holt
in Susan Rethorst's Stealing from Myself
(photo: Robert Altman)

Go here now.

It's "The Making Room," the cleverly-named online home (in development) dedicated to a meeting of the minds between dancemakers Bebe Miller and Susan Rethorst in embodied conversation about creative process "from start to premiere." This week, these two also share evenings at New York Live Arts where, if lucky enough to snare a ticket, you can sit among downtown's savviest artists and watch stellar performers of contemporary dance charge and activate space.

The Making Room is a much longer evening than one might expect at NYLA or most downtown spaces. Rethorst's duet, Stealing from Myself, runs 35 minutes, and Miller's ensemble, In a Rhythm, clocks in at 70. Between them: a 15-minute intermission. So: a commitment. Sort of like your trip to see Ailey, including Revelations...and maybe including revelations. Somehow, though, it never feels excessively long.

Both artists, admirably, draw from a seemingly bottomless, self-refreshing well of movement ideas; in the case of Rethorst, that also includes recycled material (hence, the "stealing from myself"). With Rethorst, the fascination is in watching how she deploys the bodies of Gabrielle Revlock and Gregory Holt along with simple props (two wood chairs, two small stacks of books) without being precious about how we usually see things--the bodies being people and the props being inanimate. Everything presented to us has shape and parts that, like 3-D puzzle pieces, can be set in motion, as if by Mickey's magic wand, and placed in proximity to each other in quirky ways, often at high speed. The pace of the pair's opening section makes things especially amusing if not laugh-out-loud funny. Seeing the familiar put to unfamiliar uses begins to make the viewer call everything into question. When something emerges that kinda looks like a ballet run through a Rethorstian blender, you just chuckle to yourself. Well, of course she would.

With Miller, I found myself not paying attention so much to individual movement ideas as to how she surveyed and, with her ensemble, claimed the landscape of the space, even extending it by leaving houselights up at times and addressing us directly to share artists and incidents that influence her making. The dancers are Michelle Boulé, Christal Brown, Sarah Gamblin, Angie Hauser, Bronwen MacArthurTrebien Pollard and sometimes, and wonderfully, Miller herself. There's that initial, clean, floaty flow; agitation and scattering; sweep around and across the floor; a wash of movement, a splattering, a peeling away, a deft shifting of arrangements; a droopy hanging out together. Here and there, a centerpiece, like Boulé sailing over this song by Donny Hathaway which one YouTube commentor has rightly described as "grown folks music." Boulé gives us full-out grown-folks dancing, as she always does. The juxtaposition of that song--a man giving his all even when he has very little--and her performance is heart-stopping. It might be my imagination, but it sure looked like Boulé made everyone else after her work harder--even Miller.

I also enjoyed noticing individual minds at work--no two alike--and, in particular, watched for Christal Brown's decisions. I assuming they were decisions, not directives, because they looked that way, like they arose from her in the moment, had her signature and were fully hers to make. They made me think back to Miller's citing of Toni Morrison--and the frustrating silliness of an interview Charlie Rose conducted with the valiant Black author (questioning why she always has to write about Black people). In the face of so much failure to "get it," the corrective is just to persist in being Toni Morrison, being Christal Brown, being Michelle Boulé and Bebe Miller. Do what you do and press on.

The Making Room continues nightly through Saturday, February 24 with performances at 7:30pm. After tonight's program, there will be a Stay Late conversation. Saturday, from 2-4PM: Shared Practice. For information and tickets, click here.

New York Live Arts
219 West 19th Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), Manhattan
(map/directions)

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Jennifer Monson's iLAND premieres "bend the even"

bend the even
danced by Mauriah Kraker (left) and Jennifer Monson
Below: Monson (left) and Kraker
(photos: Ryutaro Ishikane)

This work allows for the possibility that movement disappears and leaves only sensation, an emanation that is experienced through the skin and ears, not so much through the eyes. In bend the even this asks the viewer to release what might be tangible about the experience in preparation for what is newly emerging.

--from publicity for bend the even

Most of New York's dancemakers struggle to secure space to develop their work. But, for Jennifer Monson's latest piece, nature has provided...provided a place for research and exploration...provided motivation, inspiration, even, in its way, partnership.

bend the even--now in its premiere run at The Chocolate Factory Theater--is an experience of an Illinois prairie that we cannot (or maybe can) see. It is darkness and dawn at a beach we cannot (or maybe can) feel beneath our feet. It comes to life in a small loft studio in Long Island City but is intended to take us somewhere to wait for the unexpected and unforeseeable to become apparent to us.

To label it as a dance, and specifically a duet between Monson and Mauriah Kraker, is to lop off two of its essential limbs--the live soundwork of Jeff Kolar (electronics) and Zeena Parkins (acoustic harp); the lightwork of Elliott Jenetopulos, performed in the breath of the moment. (Costumes are by Susan Becker; scenic design by Regina Garcia.) It seems important to this team that their contributions be noted then removed from that hook and released. Something else, we've read, will come to "emanate at the edge of kinesthetic perception."
The research for this project was started in February 2017 with weekly rehearsals at dawn. These rehearsals have generated material connections between light, music, and movement – not as a representation of the liminal states of dawn but as a way of accessing new frameworks for emanating presence and animacy through the three mediums. This work allows for the possibility that movement disappears and leaves only sensation, an emanation that is experienced through the skin and ears, not so much through the eyes. Through the choreographic process, the collaborators will research the physics of sound, light, and movement on multiple scales – both scientific and experiential – drawing on atmospheric science as well as particle physics to inform the dawn practice.
Monson proposes something new, not so much relinquishing the choreographer's role--for the movement in this piece is fascinating and appealing as it is willful and wayward--as redirecting us to an unacknowledged result of choreography, a different purpose for it and for its fusion with other stimulants. I feel that I'm quite stuck on the edge of this desire, instinctually sympathetic with it while what's aimed for remains elusive. As audience members, we're habituated to focus on looking and listening for things and to appreciate (and, yes, interpret and judge) what we see and hear. bend the even intends disruption, or some form of liberation, but I'm caught up in its sensations.

What did we do with the sudden, absolute stillness that broke out on occasion? Did we check for external or internal vibes, or did we tick the seconds, wondering what we were supposed to be feeling and when the dancers might finally move again? Did that time feel more awkward than destabilizing? What about Jenetopulos's precipitous jolts in the lighting or other changes in sound and the dynamics of motion? Did we just "even" the bends right out and get back to our usual way of taking things in?

All that's to say, I'm not sure the bends in any even did more than point to a barrier we should know about. It did not lower that barrier--at least, not for me, not last evening. But maybe that pointing is, in itself, a useful beginning.

bend the even, running through Saturday with performances at 8pm, is sold out, but there is a waiting list. For information, click here.

The Chocolate Factory Theater
5-49 49th Avenue, Long Island City, Queens
(map/directions)

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