Strings Attached by and featuring Justin Boccitto and Stephanie Sine.  Photo Jessica Fallon Gordon Photography

Strings Attached choreographed and performed by
Justin Boccitto and Stephanie Sine.
Photo Jessica Fallon Gordon Photography

The Group Theatre Too: Choreographer’s Canvas
Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, New York, NY; April 26, 2015

Alison Durkee

Ballet shoes, bungee cords, a skeleton, and more were on display last weekend at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, as choreographers from New York City and around the world came together to demonstrate their creative talents at the Choreographer’s Canvas.

Produced by Justin Boccitto, Executive Producer at the NYC-based theatre company The Group Theatre Too, the Choreographer’s Canvas is an annual event that gives both seasoned and emerging choreographers from all dance backgrounds a platform to showcase their work off-Broadway. The seventeen works on display at this year’s showcase, chosen by a panel of dance professionals from submissions by choreographers around the world, blended classic and cutting-edge dance styles, resulting in a varied program that entertained and inspired.

Kicking off the evening was Strings Attached, a number both choreographed and performed by Boccitto and Stephanie Sine that blends tap and aerial choreography to fun and creative effect. The vaudeville-esque dance, accompanied by kazoos, features the two performers attached to bungee cords, which gives their suspended movements a sense of cartoonish animation that enhanced the lively piece.

These crowd-pleasing comedic moments continued throughout the evening with Crystal Chapman’s delightfully playful dance The Sting, which combined pointe work and classic theatre jazz to tell the story of a bumblebee’s attraction to the flower on her dance partner’s shirt, and Sine’s second piece, Dance Macabre. Set to Sinatra music and Gloria Estefan’s Conga, dancer Matt Wilson took a skeleton as his dance partner for a rousing number that led the child sitting behind me to loudly proclaim, “That was SO hilarious!”

Also featured heavily in the show’s program were several standout contemporary pieces that combined thoughtful choreography with exquisite technique. Rebecca Nodhturft’s Unplugged focused on the emergence of passion and joy in a dreary, over-worked world, with modern-based pedestrian movements giving way to a brilliantly buoyant contemporary ballet style that felt like a breath of fresh air.

Kendra Slack's Family Dynamic.  Photo Jessica Fallon Gordon Photography

Kendra Slack’s Family Dynamic.
Photo Jessica Fallon Gordon Photography

Caged Bird by KC Castellano, on the other hand, had a heavier tone as its two performers danced to a musicalized version of Maya Angelou’s iconic poem and were joined together by a long, bright red cord. The dancers deftly used this seemingly constricting connection to their advantage, with the cord becoming a highlight of the dance rather than its hindrance, and the strong lines and extensions emphasized in the choreography clearly illustrate a strong yearning for freedom.

Other contemporary highlights included Alisa Claire’s military-themed Brother John, which had a simultaneous sense of urgency and powerful control in its movements, Kendra Slack’s Family Dynamic, which centers on an family argument and effectively depicts both the family members’ interactions and each individual’s inner struggle, and Judy by Steven Blandino, a contemporary dance named for Judy Garland whose choreography blends an escalating sense of intensity with graceful moments of thoughtful pause.

The diverse program, however, made sure that fans of all dance styles had something to enjoy, with dances ranging from the Indian fusion number Lord Ganesha by Nikhil Gosavi to a song-and-dance finale by Michael Blevins. Hip hop dances The Message and X, choreographed by Jared Jenkins and Kelly Peters,
respectively, were both hard-hitting and precise with strong musicality, and the
young performers in both numbers shined.

Aerial dancers and choreographers Bobby Hedglin Taylor and Cleo Carol Knopf took the program to new heights (literally) in their piece Hello Dali, which featured the two performers on a swinging ladder suspended from the rafters. In a wonderful display of flexibility and grace, the pair performed nimble poses and such awe-inspiring stunts as Knopf holding a pose upside down while suspended only by Taylor’s feet, creating a sequence of beautiful swirling images.

These diverse and inspiring pieces made this year’s Choreographer’s Canvas a great opportunity to see an exciting range of dance work, featuring compelling performances, stimulating choreography, and inventive examples of new dance possibilities. With its amalgamation of classic technique, contemporary styles, and unique fusions, the program gives its choreographers the platform to truly display their creativity, and the exciting diversity that results makes this a stimulating event for fans of any dance genre.