1000 Virtues Dance: Three Duets on Obsession
Angie Moon Dance Theatre: The Closing at the End
Crooked Mouth: A Slender Song for Mother Shipton
Inclined Dance Project: Ringer
Kennedy Dancers: Force of Circumstance
Six Degrees Dance: Actions Leave Traces
Speyer Hall, University Settlement, New York, NY; August 8, 2014
“Six Degrees of Separation” is the collective title of a program of dances by different emerging companies, organized by Cecly Placenti, founder and director of Six Degrees Dance. This is the third incarnation of what has become an annual event in which she invites a choreographer to participate in the performance, who in turn invites another, until six companies – Ms. Placenti’s and five others – are chosen, each of which is another degree separate from her. It’s an unusual way to organize a program.
As in prior years, Ms. Placenti asked each choreographer to present a dance based on a common theme, which this year is ‘obsession’. Although one choreographer failed to get the thematic message, each of the dances displayed interesting work. I found the pieces by Ms. Placenti and Kristen Klein to be the most finely honed, but all demonstrated varying degrees of merit.
I’ve admired the work of Ms. Klein’s Inclined Dance Project previously, and “Ringer”, the fourth dance on the program, solidifies my opinion. While the piece doesn’t feature what I previously described as her ‘core’ choreographic style (more angular than lyrical, with a ‘twitchy’ quality), she has again crafted a piece of visual interest that makes choreographic and thematic sense.
Based on the program note, “Ringer” is an exploration of duality and the interaction between alternate personas. The description proved accurate, but Ms. Klein doesn’t get down to ‘duality’ business immediately, preferring to provide a choreographic baseline first – a good choice. Four dancers, Christina Chelette, Chie Mukai, Morgana Phlaum, and Ms. Radcliffe appear and take positions, Ms. Klein’s essentially lyrical movement flowing as one, then another, one pair then another, or all four move in and out of focus. Except in two respects, the movement rarely seems repetitive – though of course it is – because of Ms. Klein’s skill at weaving movement together to create texture. The exceptions are the depictions of the duality of the dancing pairs, which is highlighted by skillfully repeating visual motifs (by which I mean that she doesn’t beat the viewer over the head with the fact that they’re motifs): Ms. Phlaum and Ms. Radcliffe lean against each other, heads together (almost as if preparing to wrestle), and Ms. Mukai lifts and carries Ms. Chelette until the latter is freed to be her own person (or persona). It’s a beautifully executed little piece, both choreographically and as performed by the accomplished and engaging dancers.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Placenti’s piece (choreographed in collaboration with her dancers), which closed the evening, was the most polished of the program. For a piece that isn’t at all ‘classical’ (though its movement quality is lyrical and balletic), “Actions Leave Traces” is structured classically, in two dimensions. It’s divided into a brief exposition involving the four women, a duet, and a dénouement; and three character groups – a protagonist (Ms. Placenti), a compelling, moving force (Or Reitman), and three women (Rebecca Ross, Rachel Russell, and Ms. Klein) who serve as a combination conscience, personality fragments, and a mini Greek chorus of sorts. Ms. Placenti doesn’t waste the viewer’s time with extraneous movement for movement’s sake – she makes her point, and stops – the ‘point’ being the protagonist’s relationship with the man who draws her in, draws her out, drives her away, and obsessively drives her thoughts.
The piece begins with the women in a ‘diamond-shaped’ form. I doubt that this was her intent, but if ‘actions leave traces,’ and the traces are indelible…diamonds, after all, are forever. Ms. Placenti is in front, Ms. Klein (the tallest of the four) in back, and Ms. Russell and Ms. Ross in between. Occasionally the women peel off and dance individually, but generally the diamond form is maintained until the object of Ms. Placenti’s preoccupation, Mr. Reitman, enters and the music (by Enigma and Craig Armstrong), slows. What follows is a lovely little duet where, to visualize the commitment and the obsession, Ms. Placenti places herself on top of Mr. Reitman’s back along the length of his body. When he moves, she does. But he leaves her, after which the ‘chorus’ of women return, with Ms. Placenti resigned to her memory. But as the lights fade to near darkness, he reappears, and she turns her head toward that image (real or imagined, it doesn’t matter) – forever possessed by the traces of the relationship left behind. Subtle, effective, and very nicely done.
Chien-Hwe Hong, whose company, 1000 Virtues Dance, was the first to perform, is a dancer, teacher and choreographer from Boston. She chose to divide her presentation into three brief duets illustrative of the topic. Although each tells a story, albeit a brief one, collectively they come across as scenes from some uncreated whole that don’t gel – and perhaps weren’t intended to. The first, “Sweetest Thing,” is a paean of sorts to young love, with the ‘obsession’ being the tendency of one ‘loved’ person to follow the other’s lead – in effect, to merge, or attempt to merge, with the other. I liked how Ms. Hong’s lyricism merged with floor work (to evocative music by The Rachel’s), and as performed by Wisty Andres and Jacob Regan, there was an appropriate sweetness to it (with an underlying sense that things couldn’t stay that way indefinitely).
Ms. Hong’s second duet, “The Chicken and the Egg”, is more difficult to understand as a ‘story’, but more exciting to watch. In addition to her dance background, Ms. Hong has training in tai-chi, and this was all Asian martial art. Danced by Sean McDonnell and Mr. Regan to live violin accompaniment by Julien Heller (the composition was uncredited), the two men performed extraordinary floor-based martial art movement, but, other than perhaps one attempting to out-do with other, the piece doesn’t work as more than an exhibition. And although there must have been some significance to Mr. McDonnell wearing shoes, and Mr. Regan being barefoot, whatever it was eluded me.
Finally, “Envy,” to music attributed to The String Quartet (perhaps The Vitamin String Quartet?) was exactly as billed. Although its message, in the context of ‘obsession’, is clear, it was the least enjoyable of the three because it was so obvious, and its choreographic components the least interesting. In it, an older witch-like woman, played by Sasha Lynn, envies the youthfully attractive attributes of Ms. Andres. All that was needed was a mirror, a poisoned apple, and a few representative dwarfs.
“The Closing at the End” by Angie Moon Dance Theatre, followed. The company was established in 2012 by Artistic Director Angie Conte, another dancer/choreographer from the Boston area. To music by Volcano Choir, three dancers appear: a man stands stage right, two women stage left. Eventually one woman, Amanda Jones, falls to the floor, and the other two dancers, Brett Bell and Ms. Andres (an appealing dancer who appeared for this company as well as 1000 Virtues) come close to her, one on each side, and appear to pray over her – perhaps obsessed with her death (or drawing inspiration from her). The two standing dancers eventually cross over the prone woman as they switch places. The movement is static, with lots of thrusts and posing. In a second section, Ms. Jones begins to move, slowly squirming on the floor. At one point I thought of the semi-prone woman as a challenge to the others, particularly to Ms. Andres – representative of a river she must cross, or some horizontal mountain she must climb, or a stone she must push. Indeed, assisted by Mr. Bell, she appears to roll the once again prone Ms. Jones across the stage, repeatedly, as if she was Sisyphus aided by some compelling, dominating force (which might explain why the two never looked at each other). But the repetition is less obsessive than monotonous, and the piece overall lacks movement quality to make it interesting to watch.
Last fall, I described a dance by Crooked Mouth choreographer and founder Amy Campbell (who is also a dancer with Ms. Klein’s company), as constant, abstract movement, all at the same frenetic level. The third piece on this program can be described similarly, but I sensed something more this time – assisted, perhaps, by the evening’s topic. In “A Slender Song for Mother Shipton”, Mary Jo Cameltoe, Davon Chance, Jessica Debattista, Daniel Goode, Jeff Marras, Ashley Richard, and Ms. Campbell, all barefoot and dressed in black, fill the performing area, and either in unison or, briefly individually, and writhe as if possessed. It’s all very much the same movement, and might have come across as boring but for the pulsing music by Swans and the power inherent in group repetition. Then I noticed that Ms. Campbell wore white gloves, and a white collar emerged from the neck of one male dancer’s black shirt. While the latter could conceivably have been accidental, the former certainly was not. Together this led me to see the entire piece as representative of a religious or cult-inspired frenzy.
‘Mother Shipton’ was an sixteenth-century English prophetess and soothsayer, frequently described as a witch, who was a contemporary of Nostradamus (and considered by some to be on the same ‘level’). She purportedly forecast events during the reign of Henry VIII (accurately), as well as the end of the world (not so accurately). “Slender Song” may indeed have been about this sort of obsession. But if it is (and the cryptic program note that referenced the difficulty of ‘letting go’ doesn’t support my observation – or anything I saw in the piece), I suggest that Ms. Campbell do more with the woman wearing gloves and the man with the clerical collar than just being there.
Before Ms. Placenti’s company concluded the program, the Kennedy Dancers, a company and school located in Jersey City, NJ founded by Artistic Director Diane Dragone in 1976, presented “Force of Circumstance”. Choreographed by Sean Curran, it has been presented at other venues for at least five years. It has nothing at all to do with ‘obsession’ (unless one considers the desire to move to be obsessive), but it’s an interesting abstract piece, to music by Radiohead, that was well performed by its cast of four women and three men. I particularly liked the propulsive performance of Bong Dizon, the more delicate attack of Blair Hotchner (a teacher at the school), and Julianna Kenworthy’s slinky, sensual movement quality combined with command of space. Other dancers in the piece, each of whom performed Mr. Curran’s angular movement capably, were Eli Mendoza, Joe Monteleone, Elise Giannotti, and Larel Zaleski.
A brief word about the venue: Speyer Hall at University Settlement in New York’s Lower East Side. It was an appropriate location. I hadn’t been to the Lower East Side in many years – and its current incarnation is six degrees of separation, at least, from the way the Lower East Side used to be.