New York, New York
August 17, 2018
Neville Dance Theatre: Eclipse; Geodes (excerpt)
LL Moves: The Distance Between Two Points; Attachments
kamrDANCE: Defining Characteristics (adapted version)
Inclined Dance Project: Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits
This year’s edition of inQUAD, presented by Inclined Dance Project (IDP) at Dixon Place on the border of Soho and the Lower East Side, featured a quartet of emerging dance companies at varying accomplishment levels. What distinguished this group from others in the series is my familiarity with most of the participating companies: with one exception, I’ve seen examples of each choreographer’s work previously. The program included two dances each by Neville Dance Theatre and LL Moves, and one each by kamrDANCE and the host company.
For me, the most interesting dance on the program was the final piece, IDP’s Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits. It’s unorthodox, which for Artistic Director and choreographer Kristen Klein is not unusual, but this dance is lighter than others from this company, with an almost indescribable humor permeating the movement. I’ll discuss it further after addressing the pieces that preceded it on the program.
I’ve seen Neville Dance Theatre on several prior occasions, and have found Artistic Director Brenda Neville’s choreography to be intelligently uncluttered, and dominated by a sense of lyricism that, while not cutting edge or overly complex, is pleasing to the eye. The two dances that NDT presented at this inQUAD engagement provided more of the same.
To music by popular British composer and pianist Helen Jane Long, the program’s opening dance, Eclipse, is intended (according to the program note) to show the effect of objects eclipsing and obscuring one another. To me, that description is far too limiting. Sure there are points in which one (or more) dancers obscure others, but in Neville’s piece that seems at best an insignificant obscuring framework. Much more important is the unfussy sequencing as the four dancers (Michelle Siegel, Amanda Summers, Tanya Trombly, and John Durbin), often spread one behind the other in a vertical line that sets up the “eclipse” connection (like aligned planets, I suppose), then separate out in various combinations, and then return. It’s a nice, unpretentious, serene little ballet.
Later in the program, the company returned with Geodes, which as the program note indicates, is the “Earth” segment of an evening-length Neville piece, Elements. As a visualization of qualities of various minerals (Labradorite, Agate, Amethyst and Rhodocrosite), and abetted by projections of the geodes themselves (in their natural state) and colorful costumes (by Yuliya Lobach and the company) that mimic the geodes’ respective blue / amber / purple / burgundy colors, the piece works. And in this piece the partnering, at times problematic in other NDT pieces I’ve seen, was executed smoothly and without any evident lack of confidence. These geodes may not be as brilliant as jewels, but they glow in their own way. Kaylee Tang and Durbin, Summers and Siegel, and Trombly and Quinn Jaxon brought the respective crystals to life.
Lindsey Miller’s company LL Moves appeared in last year’s inQUAD program, and although the dances on Friday were different both from each other and from what was presented last year, the end result remains somewhat of a mixed bag. The group’s initial piece was a pas de deux of sorts between Miller and Natayu Mildenberger: by that I meant that The Distance Between Two Points was a duet between Miller and sequential projected images of Mildenberger either dancing by himself or with Miller in the same projected image.
Although it may look novel, the idea of dancing in tandem with projected images isn’t anything new, and this piece lacked the polish necessary to make the reality leaps (what the audience sees, or thinks it’s seeing) real. There were occasional moments when the interplay between the live and the projected meshed well, but there were too many other moments when it didn’t, and it all looked like a creative exercise with little significance. For example, if there was a purpose behind the initial and concluding projected scenes of the couple walking through a park, which bracketed the solo and duet live / projected and projected / projected scenes in various locales, I didn’t get it. Maybe it’s intended to be a comment on the real / virtual scenes that enhanced the projected virtual reality – somewhat like a daydream within a daydream – but regardless, the connection between the real and projected, and among the projected scenes themselves, beyond matching real and projected steps, needs to be clarified.
But later in the evening, the company presented Attachments, which is, in a convoluted sense, a far more successful version of The Distance Between Two Points. The earlier piece displayed a kind of attachment: the “real” with the “projected.” In Attachments, the connection between the dancers is accomplished by attaching and detaching pieces of costume from one dancer to another.
To clarify, the dancers are costumed (by Zachary Alexander) in nondescript outfits but for swatches of fabric of varying sizes that look vaguely African or Island themed – wavy lines in black and white that appeared to change color depending on the light source. These identically-themed costume components might appear as a skirt, a shirt, shorts, or parts thereof. As the dance progresses, at certain points certain dancers would connect with each other by contact, but also by costume as the fabric worn by one dancer is attached to another (presumably by some Velcro-like substance). The pattern continues throughout the dance, with contact prompting adhesion of a “new” costume part, and the dancers then briefly moving like Siamese twins joined at the arms or hips, with the fabric swatches subsequently being removed from the original wearer (or in some cases the attachment precedes an immediate transfer from one dancer to another).
Through it all, the movement (beyond the effort taken to attach and detach) looks primarily slinky and undulating (as opposed to angular and frenetic), reflecting the music, by Anthony Carrera, that sounds vaguely Spanish or Indian (or, somehow, both combined). Some of it didn’t make much sense (the opening, striking scene in which the four dancers are aligned upstage against a rear wall alit in red was dramatic, but didn’t appear to me to carry over into the dance in any meaningful way), but that didn’t really impact the dance as a whole.
The four dancers [Erin Arbuckle, Zachary Tracz, Siegel (from Neville’s company) and Miller] did commendable work, particularly with the difficult task of attaching and removing fabric from an adjacent dancer (the Velcro wasn’t always cooperative), but I’m not sure what Miller was trying to accomplish with this, if anything. At times the effort to attach and detach looked funny (I caught several audience members unsuccessfully attempting to stifle reflexive giggles), but I don’t think humor was the point. Whatever Miller’s intent may have been, Attachments is an interesting idea.
kamrDANCE’s Defining Characteristics, at least based on what I saw, isn’t such an interesting idea. That’s not to say that there isn’t potential here – but the piece as a whole lacks a sense of cohesiveness. I can’t fault choreographer and Artistic Director Alexis Robbins for that: the program note makes clear that the piece as presented is an adaptation (maybe 15 – 20 minutes long) from the full 35 minute dance.
What concerns me most about what I did see is that Defining Characteristics, as presented, doesn’t have defining characteristics. In the dance’s opening, which begins in silence, four women cast members (Aryanna Aronson, Alice Halter, Karli Scott, and Allison Ward, each of whom somehow had their own dance personalities even though there was little characterization in the dance) appear, do their own thing in terms of movement, strike poses, and then as I recall disappear, but there seemed to be no reason for it (not that there has to be). It’s possible that these movement qualities are repeated by each dancer as the piece progresses – that is, that maybe there was something distinctive about each dancer’s movement at the dance’s outset that carried throughout the piece – but I didn’t see that, and the way the piece evolved makes that unlikely. [The program note indicates another prong to the dance’s subject matter beyond “defining characteristics”: an exploration of varying female friendships and relationships. I saw none of that beyond what might be present in most any dance situation involving multiple female dancers (or multiple dancers of any gender).]
Following the dance’s opening segment, matching square-shaped wood platforms are brought out from the wings and positioned on the stage floor, and two more dancers, Robbins and Shaina Schwartz, began tapping. Initially the two seemed to be challenging and mimicking each other, then tapping in tandem, and later one joined the other on the same platform. At some point one or more of the other dancers would dance to the “music” created by the tapping sounds.
Although some of the “competition” between Robbins and Schwartz was cute to watch, none of it was particularly novel (and “non-tap” dancers dancing to tapping sounds isn’t new either), nor did the tapping itself rise above what I suspect both of these women are capable of (they both have extensive tap pedigrees).
That’s not to say that the movement quality of the overall dance, apart from the tapping, is uninteresting or unpleasant to watch – some of it is episodically quite thrilling. But there seemed no rhyme or reason to it. The sequential solos (one dancer enters, dances, leaves as another enters, dances, leaves…), for example, though consisting of complex little dances, didn’t appear to fit into any larger framework. There doesn’t have to be some “larger framework” – movement to sound (or not) is fine; but here it seemed clear from the program note that there was supposed to be one. And if there was any point to having the dancers appear to shield themselves from some unseen light source, I missed it.
There may be a coherent dance here, and the dancers certainly are capable and committed to Robbins’s choreography, so I’ll reserve judgment until I see the complete piece.
I did see coherence in the evening’s final dance, Klein’s Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits.
To date, Klein’s choreography has been difficult to describe, but it’s contemporary, angular, at times even lyrical, but almost always geared toward some characteristic of human nature or human relationships that she wanted to explore. Even when I found the dances, overall, less than successful, her motivation was always apparent. And with few exceptions, her choreography is serious – maybe overly so – with movement and sound accompaniment that emphasizes the angst-driven everyday reality of it all.
With Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits, Klein takes a different tack. It’s funny. Not belly-laugh funny, and the characters aren’t necessarily funny, but her choreography looks at situations in which her characters seem to have lost their sense of purpose or direction, are aware of it, and it makes them just a little crazy. It’s akin to the angst-ridden visualization of efforts to cope with living in a contemporary urban environment that Klein has shown previously, but from a different perspective, allowing a viewer to find humor in the very thing that the dancers in her piece find exasperating. As I watched, I thought of the song lyric “Wouldn’t I be the late great me if I knew how” (from the Lerner/Lane song What Did I Have That I Don’t Have). Ultimately it’s still a sad tale – just, like the song, cleverly camouflaged.
The music that Klein selected to choreograph to is a match for the controlled zaniness – not so much for the music/sound quality itself, which was relatively unobtrusive and mild, but because of the group’s name. Animal Collective (whose music has been described at various times as experimental, psychedelic, art rock, and freak folk, among many other descriptions, including having a musical kinship of sorts with the Beach Boys) implies a group that acts in concert but that’s comprised of individuals – animals (or people who act like animals) who are relatively incapable of acting in concert. So… in Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits we have dancers acting together but concurrently doing their own thing.
The choreography, particularly as the dance begins, looks occasionally, and intentionally, stiff, even spastic, with the dancers moving like mannequins or dolls (I saw allusions to parts of Jerome Robbins’s The Concert – though this may not have been Klein’s intent), and with overemphasized grins that show the desolation of loss (now where did I put that … ?) rather than vacuity. At one point the dancers’ hands become positioned on their heads like rabbit ears, though I couldn’t determine the purpose for that (listening for guidance from … somewhere?; maybe representative of rabbits / habits?). As the dance progressed, the movement from each of the dancers became more frenetic, and more tragi-comic, as the four women looked, at times, as if they were being pulled by some invisible string or stalking that elusive personality trait that they lost. At times Klein even has them climbing the walls. Literally. Sort of.
The four dancers – Amy Campbell, Leighann Curd, Shannon McGee, and Jillian Pajer – did a super job making the dance, which sounds like it’s a collection of disparate images, look like a coherent whole in which each component fortified the desperately zany but chaotically helpless message. And ultimately, maybe Sometimes I Can’t Find My Good Habits is just another of Klein’s cityscapes, but from a different point of view.
This incarnation of inQUAD may have been less audacious than some others I’ve seen, but its choreographic variety and the quality of the dancers in each company made it a quite successful evening.