Awaken Dance Theater and Cedan Dance Company
Julia De Burgos Theater, New York, NY
June 13, 2015
Last weekend brought two emerging New York City choreographers into the spotlight, as Rebekka Nodhturft’s Awaken Dance Theater and Cécilia Daninthe’s Cedan Dance Company joined together for KaleiDANCEscope: A Shared Evening of Dance. It proved to be an engaging display of the up-and-coming choreographers’ work, showcasing strong choreographic voices and high ambitions in its varied program.
In her seven pieces for Awaken Dance Theater, Nodhturft’s choreography was fluid yet specific, combining both grace and power with a strong technical foundation. Though primarily based in contemporary ballet, her dances ranged from contemporary to Broadway jazz.
The jazz was displayed in Date Night, a light-hearted piece that told the story of two girls fighting over the same man. Playful and stylized yet flowing with a balletic base, the piece was deftly performed by dancers Lainie Berman, Christine Jordan, and Princeton McCurtain, whose long lines in their extensions and jumps were wonderful to witness.
Awaken Dance Theater’s mission is to make “bold works about political and social issues,” and this issue-based tone came through in many of Nodhturft’s pieces, which tackled topics ranging from mixed-race relationships in the contemporary duet Things They Told Us to our crippling addiction to technology in Unplugged.
The issues were most clearly explored in Only in America, a piece that tells the story of a school shooting and its aftermath, focusing on both the pain of the survivors and the seeming nonchalance of those in power to take preventative action; a dancer in the piece specifically asks, “Why aren’t you doing anything?” While the piece fell a bit short of capturing the intensity needed to tackle this difficult topic in such a short amount of time, Nodhturft’s choreography excels at storytelling and creating different emotional levels. The choreography and the dancers’ performances allowed for a clear distinction between the airy optimism of the dance’s opening of a normal school day and the pounding pain of the survivors as they grapple with the events in an a cappella section, fleshing out the emotional arc of the piece and raising awareness for the issue.
Political issues were also on display in the sole dance not choreographed by Nodhturft or Daninthe, Sydney Marcus’ contemporary piece Captured, which raised awareness of the kidnapped schoolgirls in Nigeria.
Most affecting, however, was Nodhturft’s In His Grip, a duet performed by Madeline Charles and Princeton McCurtain that explores an emotionally destructive relationship, in which a woman can’t break herself free of the power her boyfriend has over her when he leaves her. The dancers brought Nodhturft’s powerful contemporary choreography to life in a genuinely captivating way. McCurtain, a dancer with the Paul Taylor 2 Dance Company, imbued each movement with a striking intensity that at once illustrated the magnetism that keeps his girlfriend from escaping his grasp and the danger that makes her addiction to him so unnerving. Charles, meanwhile, danced with a gripping sense of hopelessness and despair, yet simultaneously managed to have a distinct precision to her movements, making her performance at once both hard-hitting and emotionally resonant.
In contrast to Nodhturft’s more fluidly technical style, Cecilia Daninthe’s pieces for Cedan Dance Company were defined by their emphasis on rhythm and angularity with strong, bold lines. They were primarily contemporary-based, with Phase X, a piece for four dancers, being a particular highlight. Consisting of several different sections, with variations in tone and tempo, the choreography had a well-defined pointed specificity to it that gave the piece a strong cohesion, even as the feeling of the piece changed or the dancers performed different movements from each other. Phase X was also particularly strengthened by the power and control of its dancers, especially Shoko Fujita, who danced with both companies.
Daninthe’s choreography also retains distinct Afro-Caribbean influences, reflecting her upbringing in Guadeloupe and training at Alvin Ailey, and this was most notably clear in the showcase’s final piece, Roots, which is defined throughout by a strong rhythmic precision, features an extended Afro-Caribbean solo performed by Anne-Lise Berthelot. The thrilling solo moment has a powerful freedom to it, particularly as performed by Berthelot, who brought personality to each movement and a strong sense of musicality; her performance and the choreography was perfectly flowing and rhythmic, with accents and moments of punctuation that gave the choreography an added nuance.
The company’s most ambitious piece, however, was freEntity, a contemporary work performed entirely in the dark, with each of the dancers holding two flashlights to make their movements seen. This effect was somewhat varied in practice; as the dancers performed faster and more flowing movements, the movement of the bright lightbulbs became slightly overwhelming. The piece’s most exciting moments, instead, came through in its slower sections, as the dancers used the flashlights to illuminate themselves performing steady and controlled movements and poses, such as a sustained promenade in side attitude. In these careful movements, the flashlights had a striking effect that highlighted the dancers’ poise in a dramatic way.
As both companies are still young and developing (Awaken Dance Theatre was only just formed in 2014), the work on display at KaleiDANCEscope was not quite at the level of a higher-tier professional dance company. Though both Nodhturft and Daninthe’s choreography have power and a strong technical base, the pieces, particularly in the larger group dances, sometimes felt a bit restrained and lacking in nuance, especially when compared to the freedom and texture of the solo moment in Roots. Nevertheless, the showcase was at once both varied and cohesive, thanks in large part to the strong choreographic styles of both artistic directors, who managed to establish a clear sense of their choreographic voices and visions over the course of the evening. These strong voices, along with the pieces’ high ambitions in both intention and execution, made for an engaging and entertaining performance that demonstrated the strong promise and potential that both these young choreographers hold for the future.