Featuring Mook Dance Company, Crooked Mouth, Beth Liebowitz & Artists,
and Inclined Dance Project
Dixon Place Theater, New York, NY
August 28, 2015
The Dixon Place Theater on the Lower East Side was hopping on the final Friday in August, and not just because it was the beginning of the unofficial last weekend of summer. In addition to a performance and active bar upstairs, the theater downstairs hosted an evening of six dances by four different companies. Called inQUAD, the program was organized by Kristen Klein, Artistic Director and Choreographer of Inclined Dance Project (IDP). The idea of different emerging companies coming together to jointly rent space is not new, but this program worked particularly well, and the companies and the dances complemented each other in unusual ways.
The dances presented by the first two companies couldn’t have been more different.
The competence and polish of the Mook Dance Company, came as a pleasant surprise. Bloodflood and Clouds, The Mind on the (Re)Wind share movement quality, sequencing and patterning. And despite choreographic idiosyncrasies that add unusual and welcome texture – dancers frequently shake one hand or use hands and fingers to explore their surroundings – there’s a refreshingly vigorous lyricism to Artistic Director Winnie Berger’s choreography. I appreciated both dances based on the common stylistic sense, and the dynamic execution by the engaging group.
The middle piece was particularly impressive. Defeating the Anx (choreographed to On the Sea by Beach House) is one of those ‘I-will-survive’ solos that are almost a cliché. But here, the focus isn’t so much on ‘woe is me’ or ‘how awful whatever it was’ was, but on overcoming anxiety (the ‘anx’ in Defeating the Anx, perhaps). Or, on a more cosmic scale, battling free from depression. It’s unclear whether the forces that batter her are imposed or self-imposed, but it doesn’t matter. This is thrilling, complex choreography – all movement, all terrible, and all wonderful, at the same time.
In Anne Souder, a compelling stage presence, the piece found a perfect vessel. She not only dances as if possessed by inner demons, she also brings a special, individual quality to the piece. A somewhat dark, inscrutable demeanor coupled with an inner fury that is beyond the simple competence required to execute Berger’s steps. Brilliantly done.
In contrast to the control, finesse, and order apparent in these pieces, Crooked Mouth’s Sunshine Champion looks ragged, outrageous, and disordered – but this is intentional.
Choreographically, it is similar to other pieces by Artistic Director Amy Campbell’s that I’ve seen. The dance seems more a collection of movements, with too much wind-up before the next motion is delivered, adding a sense of clunkiness to the movement quality. But here, details of the choreography are secondary to the overall theatrical impact Campbell wants, and to a large extent successfully creates. This piece has a clear overall theme: the disorder in a relationship, a family, or between generations.
Choreographed to a compilation of music from at least nine different sources, Sunshine Champion begins with four dancers (in distinctively colored tops) aligned horizontally across the back of the stage area. While one dances, the others hop, marking time or awaiting their turn. Eventually, all move downstage and dance individually or in tandem – though there seems to be no effort made to dance strictly in unison. Then one of the three women sticks her fingers partly into her mouth, mimicking intentional vomiting, and suddenly it’s not all weird, disconnected moves – things get ugly.
Then, as if on cue, the scene and music change and Mary Jo Bono wanders on stage in a pink beach outfit, and plops herself onto a beach chair to soak up some sun. The other dancers don’t want anything to do with her. She looks for support (accompanied by snippets of Brian Eno’s Baby’s On Fire), but doesn’t find it. Ashley Richard, Campbell, and Sarah Lulenski dance compelling anguished solos, which segues into Bono arising from her chair and mouthing the lyrics from I’m Not In Love by 10cc. The group’s lone male dancer, Daniel Goode, writhes and throws himself around nearby. And as the dance proceeds with excerpts of Springsteen and Madonna (Borderline, of course), the desperation of both generations is inescapable. Sunshine Champion is not a particularly fun piece to watch (except perhaps with respect to its vicious dark humor) but it does justice to Campbell’s concept.
Following the intermission, Beth Liebowitz & Artists, presented what to me was the most intriguing dance of the night: What You Hear Is Yours. Liebowitz has her dancers take their inspiration, and perhaps their characters, from the music they hear. Or maybe it’s the other way around – the music they hear takes its character from the dancers. But the ‘characters’ of the music and the dancers mesh so intricately that the overlap becomes blurry – to the point where the musicians themselves provide not only live musical accompaniment, but become, physically, part of the dance performance.
The piece begins before intermission ends, as the three dancers, Morgana Phlaum, Jenna Purcell, and Calvin Tsang, and the two drummers, David Palazola and Daniel Petty, set up. As the audience continues to file in, the five tune their respective instruments. But it was clear that more was going on than simply tuning and stretching – each dancer was engaging with the drums, creating a mind/body meld between the percussive instrument and the instrument of movement.
The interplay was clear. Purcell’s character was frenetic and wild and Tsang’s more controlled and polished-looking, but the marriage between the drums and Phlaum’s character worked best. Phlaum (like Campbell) is also a member of Klein’s IDP company. Here, she was a deadpan, slinky vamp who converted soft percussion into sensuous visual purrs. Or the other way around.
The evening’s final piece, Babble (v.3.0), remains as well-crafted and intentionally uncomfortable-looking as in its prior incarnation, but now has greater complexity and choreographic activity, and more of an emphasis on the dancers’ inability to communicate with each other (via their movement languages). Gone is the piece’s previous ending, with the dancers raising their feet toward heaven as if seeking a solution from some higher power, replaced, more convincingly, with resignation that perhaps it’s best for practitioners of the different ‘languages’ to simply coexist. Like its prior editions, Babble 3.0 still displays Klein’s well-defined structure despite the apparent randomness of the movement, and still features the same three dancers presenting the choreography with the intensity it deserves.
inQUAD’s initial program attracted over-sold houses, and provided an interesting interplay of dancers and styles. Success tends to breed further such programs, which, based on this one, would be good for the dancers and companies involved, and for audiences who see them.