Megan Williams Dance Projects & Eve Beglarian
Mark Morris Dance Center
James and Martha Duffy Performance Space
New York, NY 

April 7, 2024
Smile, though your heart is aching

Kristen Hedberg

Smile, though your heart is aching, a vibrant performance creation, speaks to perseverance through sorrow. The companionship between live music and dance builds a bright world, even while showcasing the shadows of heartbreak.

Megan Williams/Megan Williams Dance Projects and composer Eve Beglarian premiered Smile, though your heart is aching April 5-7, 2024 at the James and Martha Duffy Performance Space at Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn, NY. The performance was a revitalized 2020 collaboration between Williams and Beglarian, originally titled Desire, which did not premiere due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Smile, though your heart is aching (hereafter “Smile”) is set to selections from Beglarian’s anthology, Machaut in the Machine Age, a series of musical pieces created in response to 14th century French composer Guillaume de Machaut. The work also features music from Beglarian’s concept album titled The Real Deal, which her website describes as a “project of music and words queering Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th century epistolary romance Le Livre dou Voir Dit for our time.”

Williams and Beglarian share a decades-long friendship, their trust and understanding of one another is evident throughout Smile, as is their gratitude and appreciation for their fellow artists.

Megan Williams Dance Projects
in “Smile, though your heart is aching”
Photo by Julie Lemberger

In an array of scenes, Williams and her cast of nine stellar dancers craft a world with buoyant, extending energies. Joining Williams are Esmé Julien Boyce, Robert Mark Burke, Réka Echerer, Mary Lyn Graves, Chelsea Enjer Hecht, Justin Lynch, Mykel Marai Nairne, Will Noling, and Michael Bryan Wang. From a horizontal line in the upstage space, six musicians grace the work with stunning sounds: Beglarian herself (vocalist/keyboards), Caitlin Cawley (percussion),  Isabelle O’Connell (piano/synth), leiken (vocalist), Margaret Lancaster (flutes), and Tristan Kasten-Krause (bass).

While Smile does not depict a linear narrative, the movers’ clarity in movement and space builds a story that speaks to each viewer. The dancers arrive at each moment as if they were balancing at the edge of a precipice, or vaulting over valleys. They shift with urgency, yet lightness. The music equally and fully completes the atmosphere. The dancers often matched the musicians’ quick, percussive tempos. Occasionally the movers veer away from the sound scores, allowing softer, quieter moments to settle.

Though impossible to capture every moment in synopsis, the following offers an abridged summary of the work’s sections and atmosphere.

(l-r) Will Noling, Mykel Marai Nairne, and Mary Lyn Graves
in Megan Williams’s “Smile, though your heart is aching”
Photo by Julie Lemberger.

The dancers and musicians enter together from the downstage right corner, arriving at their beginning destinations as one unit. The dancers diffuse to the open stage right wings, leaving Williams standing alone. Williams’ opening solo introduces a delicacy and deliberateness which carry through the work. The stage lightens as the ensemble enters after Williams, yellow lights complimenting their light, pastel costumes.

A quartet dances, their vocabulary lush with technical movements reminiscent of Cunningham. A quintet slowly walks in straight lines around the four dancing in the middle, framing the space. The group’s movements transform into a petite allegro, ultimately leaving Chelsea Enjer Hecht on stage alone. Hecht floats effortlessly. She bourrés in a wide fourth position, tossing their limbs and rolling to the floor. Blue lights accentuate their ease in movement.

Michael Bryan Wang, Will Noling and Esmé Julien Boyce’s trio echoes Williams’ tender energy, evident in the attentiveness they share with one another. A striking image occurs as Wang slowly lowers Noling, statuesque in a horizontal lean, to the floor. Noling’s arms hold a rounded position above the head. Boyce dances separately. Her energy connects with her companions from afar as she breathes through billowing contractions. In time, the three arrive together. Wang and Noling lift Boyce skyward.

Duets and trios follow, the work highlighting connections and companionship. The movers charge towards a destination with a commitment to continuing forward. Their phrase work remains technically demanding, though they make it all look easy. Robert Mark Burke, for example, arrests the space with a sustained balance, curving and arching his torso against a lifted leg. Justin Lynch and Will Noling circle Burke in this moment, stepping sharply against his smoothness.

Megan Williams Dance Projects
in “Smile, though your heart is aching”
Photo by Julie Lemberger

A hallmark of the work occurs as the ensemble travels across the stage in a state of organized chaos. Their repeated shapes and movements – arabesques, attitudes, turns, balances, curved spines, fast jumps – marry the music’s brisk pace. Each on their own path, dancers unite in movement and timing, and then separate. Their brisk footwork meets twinkling sounds in the score. Réka Echerer dances particularly ethereally in the way she reaches beyond her limbs. The music propels them all; the scene feels determined.

The stage breathes as the group unites in a clump downstage. They lift their legs behind them into arabesques. They lower their legs and extend them out again, this time into tendus. Stretching together, the clump dissolves into a solo danced by Echerer. She dances as the ensemble slowly rolls across the floor. Echerer’s sharpness contrasts their softness, her movements incredibly controlled yet free and expressive.

In Williams’ second solo, she acknowledges Beglarian, who walks forward vocalizing. Williams circles Beglarian with a walk before building her pace into a run. She gestures to Beglarian directly with her hands as Beglarian’s voice drives her energy. Williams’ upper body gestures repeat: she pounds her back with her fists, she carves her curved arms upwards, and she covers her face with her hands. The moment is wrought with emotion.

The ensemble flocks onstage after Williams exits, swooping to the center and dancing large phrases. They weave in and out of one another before arranging themselves in a diagonal line which breathes like an accordion. The group bursts into jumps which ultimately take all but Wang off stage. Wang powerfully charges across the stage once more; a long, leaning tilt propels him after the others. Here, the audience erupts, perhaps thinking the work had already concluded. The moment was so full of stretch, perseverance and bravado.

The lights dim. Music continues to fill the space, offering a softness after the previous scene’s high energy. Beglarian steps forward again, vocalizing a gentle yet insistent note. leiken steps forward, meeting her with the same sound. They crescendo in volume, facing each other, their vocals a conversation.

Megan Williams and Ieiken (vocalist)
in “Smile, though your heart is aching”
Photo by Julie Lemberger

Yellow lights return. A thrilling allegro by Burke and Graves heightens the energy as they hurtle through the space. Accompanied by a percussive tempo – joined by the musicians’ clapping – Burke and Graves jump, passing each other before joining in unison. Noling walks slowly around them, contrasting their speed. The three dancers exit, and a quintet enters, forming a vertical line. Standing, the five shift from side to side. Burke, Graves, Noling and Echerer join them. They sink to the floor in middle splits, now in a diagonal line, rocking side to side. They lie down on their backs. It appears contemplative.

Williams’ final solo delivers a vulnerability that reveals the gravity of the work. She dances next to leiken, who steps forward to join her. Williams descends to the floor in a hinge, her legs catching her in a fourth position. Crawling towards leiken, she grasps her companion’s ankles, dragging herself closer.

The group returns, a call back to the earlier scene of organized chaos. They travel again from stage left to right, somehow changed, somehow warmer. The group clasps hands and create a circle, opening and closing the space. The circle reconfigures into a clump, and the ensemble extends their legs once more to a tendu, with their arms reaching upwards. They break their lifted shapes in soft, crumbling isolations, their torsos hanging over their pelvises. They rise again. The ensemble lifts their hands and faces, gazing out over the audience as the lights black out.

Smile brings an abundance of life to the stage through music and movement, calling upon a wide range of life’s emotions. Celebration chases sadness; triumph trails tears. Its group sections, generally, suggest the importance of drawing support from one’s community. This communal energy was even felt from off stage, as the dancers not “involved” in a section typically stood in the open wings, watching. The musicians shared this energy as well, their presence on stage a constant. Each solo, duet and trio felt like a personal vignette, the audience invited to be flies on the wall of deeply personal memories.

Smile, though your heart is aching invites viewers to carry on past turbulence, through heartbreak, through life’s greatest challenges: to put on a brave face even when it feels impossible.