"Black and White" Photo Sharon Bradford

“Black and White”
Photo Sharon Bradford

Salvatore Capezio Theater, New York City

February 13, 2016

Cecly Placenti

In a city teeming with talented dancers, artists and entrepreneurial spirit, it can be a struggle for choreographers to get their work in front of audiences. Between venue costs, endless competition and the mystery of building an audience in a city that pulls its inhabitants in countless directions, small companies and fledgling choreographers often struggle just to keep their heads above water and get seen. Many address this issue by presenting at festivals or in showcases where the costs are absorbed or shared and the audience varied and fresh. The Pushing Progress Series is one such opportunity. Presented by Pushing Progress Contemporary Dance, the series curates work that is innovative, engaging, thought provoking and sophisticated. This evening featured the work of 12 different choreographers, some veteran and some emerging.

The Spire, choreographed by Mallory Lynn of LoudHoundMovement, opens the evening with a passionate, organic, effortless duet for Shelby Terrell and Dan Walczak. At time, Terrell  supports Walczak and at others she seems to be influencing his movement, their partnering seamless and sensual, loving and synergistic.

In Gaze, choreographed by Chafin Seymour of seymour::dancecollective, a trio of 3 men combine contemporary dance with a club-kid, raver style in a synchronistic, conversational way. Seymour is an intelligent choreographer – his use of counterpoint is flawless and gives the eye a place to focus without being predictable. He uses the trio in really innovative and intriguing ways, with complimentary, simultaneous solos adding texture and depth. Movement canons that are slightly varied juxtapose phrases in such a way that they are highlighted without standing out, creating a very hypnotic, yet not dulling, overall impression.

Say Something, choreographed and performed by Nadege Hottier is a lyrical yet powerful conversation between himself and cellist Mac Twining. Hottier is a beautiful mover. His technique is effortless and clean and he moves with grace and ease. What drew me to him most was the use of his hands. Sensitive and articulate, they caress and carve the air around him as if it were a physical form. Detail like that is breathtaking to watch and left me wanting more.

All 12 pieces on the program are quite different, yet each has a sinuous, effortless, sequential movement quality, which,as a dancer, I find especially pleasing and beautiful, and which unified the evening. Almost every piece has a perpetual motion, suspended quality, incorporating syncopation and dynamics. My one criticism of the evening is its length. At just about 2 hours, my eyes and brain were fatigued by the influx of information, changing every 10 minutes or so. It is much different to watch a single piece that is 2 hours long – Swan Lake for example, where there is one plot and storyline throughout. But in an evening such as this, each piece is it’s own story, and after 6 or 7, I felt the emotional toll. As much as I enjoyed the show and its exposure to many talented choreographers and dancers I’d never seen before, I think a shorter program would be even more effective.

In an evening full of memorable moments and stunning imagery, one in particular that stands out in my mind is the kinetic architecture of Alexander Olivieri and Miriam Gabriel in Robert Mark Burke’s Sheath. I am struck by the organic, snake-like quality of their partner work, how their bodies twined like smoke, almost playing tricks on the eye as they morphed and shifted supporting shapes. At the end, Gabriel jumps into the arms of Olivieri, arching back as he spins her around and around. As the lights fade on this image, we see Olivieri close his eyes and rest his cheek on her shoulder in a tender, gorgeous gesture of adoration and nurturing.

Closing the evening is another powerful, breathtaking duet choreographed by Manuel Vignoulle for himself and Rena Butler. Black and White juxtaposes two topless dancers of contrasting skin tones in a symbiotic relationship, inseparable and entwined. Like strands of DNA wrapping and unwrapping around each other, their duet unfolds with a fluidity that is aquiline and a force that is driving and earthy. Their movements have a primal, sexless quality, tribal and grounded, and their partnering showcases both the deep strength and divine grace of the human body. Eschewing gender stereotypes, both dancers show equal mastery of physical strength and effortless grace, traveling between the masculine and feminine stereotypes naturally. Like a moving yin and yang symbol, their duet speaks of unity and the commonality of what it means to be human; what makes us all the same rather than what is obviously different. There truly is nothing more beautiful than the human body in motion. Especially bodies at the top of their form, stripped down to their unabashed gorgeousness – beautiful not by outer standards, (although they were this as well) but by inherent standards all their own, asking audiences to see not what is obvious to the eye, but what can only be seen with the soul.