Center for Performance Research, Brooklyn, NY; November 15 2013

Jerry Hochman

Kristen Klein and Christina Chelette in "Stuck Together Pieces" Photo ©

Kristen Klein and Christina Chelette in “Stuck Together Pieces”
Photo © Andrew Mauney

For a dance lover, New York is an amazing place. From small groups to solos to established companies to start-ups, from large venues to small, seemingly in every nook and cranny, each day of the week things are happening. The quality of the output varies, and the dance that’s presented may not appeal to every viewer’s taste, but it’s there, struggling for recognition.

One such program took place on Friday, at a small but comfortable venue in Brooklyn, where the Inclined Dance Project presented a program of five pieces. The three dances choreographed by company Artistic Director Kristen Klein demonstrate that she has a still-developing core choreographic style, coupled with the ability to put steps together in a way that makes visual and thematic sense and that maintains an audience’s interest. No small accomplishment. Equally significant is that her group of six dancers (herself and five other women) not only can enjoy and capably execute her choreography, but can successfully connect with an audience. Based on this program, Ms. Klein and her company deserve to be recognized.

At Friday’s program (which was repeated on Saturday), Ms. Klein presented a new work titled “In The Wires“, an old one, “Marrow,” and the premiere of “Stuck Together Pieces.” Included in the program were pieces by company members Chie Mukai and Amy Campbell (“Two” and “Kick It”, respectively, the latter presented by Ms. Campbell’s company, ‘Crooked Mouth’).  This review will focus on Ms. Klein’s pieces.

Incline Dance Project in "Marrow" Photo © Andrew Mauney

Incline Dance Project in “Marrow”
Photo © Andrew Mauney

Her choreography is difficult to easily describe. There’s an evolving core movement quality that is more angular than lyrical, with a quirky, twitchy quality.  By itself, that’s not unique.  But the core movement appears on a molecular level, as if each bone and each muscle is not only capable of movement, but can independently move in a controlled fashion. So not only do arms and legs and head and neck move, but it seems as if each vertebra and each muscle in the torso, for example, can be triggered at any given time.

But that’s only part of the description. More significant to me is that this core movement quality is not enforced as an eleventh commandment. The presentation is eclectic. Ms. Klein varies her core quality both with variations on the basic movement theme (instead of angular, twitchy movement, the movement becomes sinuous, flowing, almost sensual). Or the dancer will drag herself across the floor in various ways, or run, or be lifted and carried by another, or hit perfect arabesques, or softly exhale air in a way that combines blown kisses with imaginary wind gusts. Her pieces, at least those I’ve seen, have a clear (though not necessarily predictable) structure, and are crafted with care and intelligence: Even though the movement quality may sound disconnected and disparate, in the end, it all comes together.  And her dancers are not automatons. Whether imposed by choreographic design or incorporated expressions of the dancers’ natural stage personae, they are individuals with personalities, characters perhaps, not solely empty vessels moving in space.

“In The Wires,” a piece for three dancers (Ms. Mukai, Morgana Phlaum, and Jennifer Radcliffe), isn’t a substantial work, but it’s crafted and executed very well.  It begins with the dancers hunched over, moving their torsos and swinging their arms, and then comes to life with the dancers leaping solo or in changing pairs. The arms and hands are significant components of the piece, held high, or across, or shaken. It sounds like an exercise, but it comes across as an entertaining abstract work, with each dancer being given an opportunity to shine.

“Marrow” reportedly was inspired by a piece of graffiti art. It must have been high quality graffiti. The dance is only ten minutes or so long, but it’s filled with wonderfully entertaining and imaginative images, impeccably executed by Ms. Campbell, Christina Chelette, Ms. Mukai, Ms. Phlaum, and Ms. Radcliffe. It would be a marvelous abstract dance at any level of experience, but considering that it was Ms. Klein’s first company piece (2009), “Marrow” is quite remarkable.

The dance describes the process of individuals both exploring their inner selves and connecting with others, and the forces and energies involved.  It sounds trite – but the dance doesn’t look that way.

Incline Dance Company in "Stuck Together Pieces" Incline Dance Project in "Marrow" Photo © Andrew Mauney

Incline Dance Project in “Stuck Together Pieces”
Photo © Andrew Mauney

Choreographed to an original score by composer/collaborator Frank Gilbertson, “Marrow” uses, but isn’t bound by, the almost hallucinogenic main musical phrase that is repeated in various forms and in varying intensity throughout. That is, sometimes Ms. Klein also repeats choreographic phrases to match the musical phrase – letting one dancer lead the others in a particular movement, repeated thereafter with the same choreographic pattern but with a different movement – but she more often uses the repetitive musical theme as mesmerizing background to independent moving images.

And the deceptively simply choreography is itself spellbinding and compelling to watch. The ‘core style’ that I described above is there, but only to a limited extent. Rather, “Marrow” is as much lyrical as angular (reflecting the ballet background of Ms. Klein and most of the company members), mingling balletic images with its overall contemporary pulse. And there’s that wonderful, and integral, softly blown kiss of air aimed by one dancer to another, or from one dancer to the remaining dancers in the group.   Also integral is the visualization of bonding energy as an invisible string connecting one or more of the dancers. When the piece ended with every member of the group being connected to this unseen but visualized force, I wanted to cheer – Ms. Klein had pulled it together perfectly.

Like “Marrow,” “Stuck Together Pieces” is ‘about’ interactions between people, but it’s less cosmic. Here Ms. Klein is not concerned about energy forces, but about the interaction of people ‘stuck together’ in some sort of restricted space (the ‘space’ can be anything – a room, street corner, subway car, beach, Brooklyn), told in a dance that’s composed of vignettes that are also ‘stuck together’ to create a whole.  While an examination of this subject is hardly unusual, what makes “Stuck Together Pieces” different is its concurrent sense of individuality and community (albeit somewhat alienated).

Structurally, the piece evolves in a series of choreographic episodes featuring one dancer, into which one or more others may appear and interact. These vignettes are connected (or interrupted) by group sequences that in effect shuffle the bodies into different positions. It’s as if it’s a subway ride where the occupants of a particular car move and assume positions when the train stops at a station, but while it’s in motion, the action focuses on whomever happen to be stuck in the middle of the car without anything (or anyone) to hold on to. All the occupants have their guard up – this is a subway car (or other public space) filled with strangers, after all – but those in the middle are individually exposed, and appear apprehensive, lonely, unconcerned, or oblivious – or all of the above. In addition to the basic ‘core’ style, augmented by slides, floor work, leaps, and even a blown kiss or two, the stage walls are used as a combination safe zone, observation point, and independent perimeter performing space. And the ‘score’ to which the dancers move is itself a collection of ‘stuck together’ sounds that Ms. Klein excised from roughly fifteen recorded sources that might be heard on the street or on a iPod while in transit, combined with nature sounds recorded in Prospect Park and Coney Island, sounds from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and, yes, sounds of the subway.

A brief word about the dancers in Inclined Dance Project: they’re fabulous. Each one, including Ms. Klein, executed her allocated share of the choreography (or perhaps what each contributed individually to the whole) with a rare combination of extraordinary intensity and competence. And they’re a heterogeneous group, from tall and thin to short and solid. But the two who seemed, in terms of stage personality, to be significantly different were the newest members of the company, Ms. Campbell and Ms. Phlaum. Each ratchets the intensity down a bit – which is a good thing – and brings something different to the stage. In Ms. Campbell’s case, it’s a sense of detachment, of vulnerability, of being not quite sure whether she belongs. As for Ms. Phlaum, it’s radiance and a buttery sensuality. With a ready smile that seems to occupy 90 per cent of her face, she comes across as part young Shirley MacLaine, part Alfonse Mucha art nouveau figure, and part 500 watt light bulb.

Overall, this program was a superb example of what happens in dance in New York every day, which few outside the dancers’ immediate circles know about. But word gets around – Friday’s performance was full, and my understanding is that Saturday’s was overflowing. If you enjoy watching nascent talent grow, see Ms. Klein’s company the next time it performs – if you’re so inclined.