The Ailey Citygroup Theater, New York, NY; April 25, 2015

Cecly Placenti

danceETHOS at Jump on the Dance Wagon.  Photo Eric Bandiero

danceETHOS at Jump on the Dance Wagon.
Photo Eric Bandiero

Of the many great things about the New York City dance scene is the opportunity to see so many companies on almost any given night. The excitement rises as the lights dim, and as one is very often introduced to companies not seen before, even in ten years as a critic.

Jump on the DanceWagon 2015, founded and directed by Ellen Stokes Shadle, brought together four companies from NYC and Philadelphia in an evening of contemporary modern dance in an effort to both expose new audiences and assist those companies with the hefty production costs of presenting worky.

JT Lotus Dance Company, directed by Jessie Tomanek, presented two pieces in four parts. Titled What will you do to reach the top? parts one and two attempt to portray domination by a dark, indistinguishable force, and parts three and four the resolution of that force. The dancers wear white faced plastic masks and dark jackets, and the piece opens with angular, heavy, robotic movements. The dynamic of parts one and two is confrontational but whether the dancers are individuals all beset with the same or similar oppressive forces, or are somehow responsible for negatively affecting one another, is unclear.

In the resolution section, a soloist wearing an eerie red plastic mask contorts and struggles, and eventually tears the mask off her face and tosses it away. It seemed a very superficial action with not much weight behind it. The reason why was also a missing ingredient for me in the removal of that eerie mask. Suddenly the music changes from very heavy, industrial sounds to a sort of country-western-club sound, and the dancers appear in plaid shirts and denim, all smiles and jumps and what read to me as forced excitement. There’s a strong, relevant concept here, but Tomanek needs to dig into it more. What will you do to reach the top? lacks meat on its bones and there is more to do to make it the powerful message it surely can be.

From Philadelphia, danceETHOS presented three premieres. dystonic begins with a lovely duet for two women, seated on the floor. The movements are circular and soft, punctuated by twists and angles, and build into standing phrases that maintain punctuated circularity and softness. It’s pleasing in its mirror-like composition without being unison for too long. Danced by Jenning Fischer and Rebecca Glassman, dystonic could be the relationship between two sisters or friends.

The Chicken went to Scotland by Buggé Ballet.  Photo Eric Bandiero

The Chicken went to Scotland by Buggé Ballet.
Photo Eric Bandiero

The term ‘dystonic’ relates to Dystonia, a neurological movement disorder in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting or repetitive movements or abnormal postures. If this is what choreographer Morgan Chambers is referring to, I would like to have seen much more distortion repetition and abnormality. dystonic is too pretty to be representative of such a debilitating disorder.

Vim, choreographed by Jackie Kokolus, is much more angular and combative, percussive and strong. There is a lot of unison dancing and athletic jumping that takes dancers immediately to the floor. It is reminiscent of an army regiment in its intensity, focus and uniformity. At the end, eight dancers gather in formation, exasperated and running in place, falling suddenly and jumping right back up to continue running and never getting anywhere. It is a pleasing although unhappy ending to an unfulfilled journey.

A criticism of danceEthos, and for Tomanek’s work, is the lack of movement invention and depth. While the dancers were all technically wonderful, and the movement athletic and dynamic, much of the choreography looked similar. Many of the movement choices seem arbitrary, superficial or reminiscent of choices made in earlier pieces – like a sudden side split jump repeated several times, or a competition-style straight jump in back arch. They just seem out of place
in the overall composition.

Exempt from that criticism was MizantyMoves Dance Works’ Until We Get Caught… A dance theatre piece, movement invention is much less important to the overall message and story being told.

Funny without ever being campy or over the top, Until We Get Caught… uses layered vocal repetitions of mundane words and phrases that build into a sound score, culminating in excerpts of song. Beautiful singers and fully invested performers, Yung Shan Chaung, Julie Edwards, Matthew Frazier-Smith, Maya Gonzalez and Kendra Slack offer a peak into their worlds of mischief. Getting caught cheating on a test in grammar school, trying to cut to the front of a taxi waiting line, and a first crush weave seamlessly together with words and gestures in comical vignettes, held together by the presence of a plate of chocolate chip cookies at the front of the stage. Intermittently one dancer or another casually take bites, and at the end, sneaking off while the rest of the group struggle to be heard over each other, Maya Gonzalez greedily consumes the plate, turning a guilty chocolate covered face to the audience and offers us a last crumb. Each performer was completely engaged and engaging throughout, using their faces, voices and bodies with equal value.

Buggé Ballet presented only one piece, The Chicken Went to Scotland, a sprightly, quick footed piece using classical ballet technique, pointe shoes included. It tells the story of a stranger in a strange land. Dressed in plaid stockings and dresses, it opens with a perky, petite allegro danced to a Scottish jig. When soloist Paige Grimard enters in a pleated white silky skirt and hat, she seems confused and unwelcomed by the other dancers. They tease and torment her, until one of the boys takes a liking to her and eventually she is accepted into the group. Grimard is a beautiful dancer with large eyes that she uses expressively. Her technique is strong and confident, her upper body lyrical and expansive.

While this altogether may not have been the strongest showcase I’ve seen, I never take for granted the many gifts of dance NYC has to offer, and I applaud and appreciate Ellen Stokes Shadle’s commitment to presenting emerging choreographers and offering them an opportunity to develop and share their talents.