The Actors Fund Arts Center, Brooklyn, NY
July 17, 2015

Jerry Hochman

For several years, Six Degrees Dance, under the leadership of Artistic Director and CriticalDance occasional contributor Cecly Placenti, has organized a program of dances by emerging companies under the collective umbrella Six Degrees of Separation, each with an overall theme, which for this, the fourth incarnation was ‘Balance vs. Chaos’.

Granted that the tension between balance and chaos can be found in one form or another in almost anything, and that the coexistence of both is an essential yin and yang of life, it takes a leap of faith to find the theme expressed in the six pieces presented. Only the first, by Trainor Dance, and the last, by Six Degrees Dance, seemed to get the thematic message clearly – for the others it’s a stretch.

Whether intended or not, Sound It Out, a solo by Trainor Dance Artistic Director Caitlin Trainor, is a prime example of a sort of balanced chaos.

Trainor has been experimenting with audience-determined outcomes. For Sound It Out she created choreographed phrases, and assigned a letter of the alphabet to each. With the addition of instructions like ‘freeze’ and ‘stop’, she performs these phrases in response to members of the audience calling out letters at random. While each phrase is set in stone, what’s seen on stage is completely audience-determined.

The piece may not be as random as it sounds. As at this performance, the first part of the dance will likely consist of the audience testing Trainor’s memory, or just checking out the choices, by shouting out letters that no one else had previously called. When the alphabet is exhausted, the audience will likely focus on those letters they like the most. Presumably there’s also mechanism to make sure that someone at some point shouts out ‘end’ to ensure that the performance doesn’t go on for hours.

Sound It Out is a reasonably entertaining curiosity, and although one can admire Trainor’s ability to memorize the phrases assigned to particular letters, the repetition wears thin fairly quickly.

The second piece of the evening (the fifth degree of separation) was a solo by Zjana Muraro, a Balkan-American multidisciplinary performer and dancer. Untitled is a piece of performance art that may simply be a collection of somewhat chaotic actions with the intention of expressing something, or, as I suspect, it may have a meaning (there’s a lot of anger and resignation, perhaps about a failed relationship). But it’s intentionally incoherent, which makes deciphering it both virtually impossible and essentially immaterial.

The dance begins in silence, Muraro performing disconnected movement expression statements, from arms thrusting, to gliding sideways on her toes, to torso angulation. After the music begins (a medley of vocals by avant-garde performance artist Diamanda Galas, a vocal by Muraro inspired by For a friend lost by Myriam Van Imschoot, and excerpts from the soundtrack of the film L’Adolescente), Muraro, already looking thoroughly spent, slides on the floor, stretches up as if reaching for something, and falls to the floor as if reliving a bad memory. Using a microphone she makes a variety of sounds that at one point is remindful of dogs slurping water from a bowl, at another of those made by children playing. Eventually I deciphered phrases such as “I like to make you happy” and “I want you to know how special you are,” delivered in a throaty, half-whispered monotone. Then, following another set of movement expressions, she grabs the microphone and walks off, again in silence.

The Principles [part 2] was presented by Lauren Beirne Dance Works and performed by Molly McGrath and Hannah Sego. Although ‘part 2’ implies that there’s at least a ‘part 1’, there’s nothing indicating that this piece is an excerpt from a larger one.

Choreographed by Beirne, the duet is filled with constant motion and demonstrates the antithesis of chaos in that it is tightly controlled, and when not executed by the dancers in tandem, has one either responding to or dependent on the other. At first, the dancers, wearing bras and men’s briefs for no apparent reason beyond as a visual metaphor for exposed emotions, appear within a circle of light on stage, with their positions relatively fixed as their arms swing. With their backs mostly to the audience, they writhe and scream, as if giving voice to a nascent relationship. Eventually they break out, sit up, fall down, and pull themselves forward on their backs by their legs. The movement, which is neither particularly lyrical nor particularly angular, returns repeatedly to swinging arms, and at points one woman leans on the other seemingly for emotional rather than physical support.

It’s not clear what, if anything, The Principles [part 2] is supposed to be about; perhaps mutual dependence, perhaps the independence of interdependence. Regardless, the dancers performed it with obvious commitment and skill.

The most engaging dance on the program was the fourth, Anchor by marked dance project, an integrated dance company for dancers with and without disabilities. The choreography by Artistic Director Mark Travis Rivera is not particularly inventive, but it’s accessible and entertaining, and its message of inclusion has rarely been so emphatically or obviously demonstrated.

The most memorable segment is that involving the dancer most obviously physically disabled, Michelle Mantione. At one point she dances a pas de deux of sorts with her crutch, and, after being joined by another dancer, is lifted up by it. It sounds strange, but it’s actually quite moving. Of most significance, however, is that Rivera has choreographed a piece where, except for the sequence focusing on Mantione, the dancers’ backgrounds and disabilities are seen as largely irrelevant.

Before, Shade Shines, is a solo choreographed and performed by Consuelo Marie Barbetta, founder of Modern Limbic. Its message, to the extent there is one, is not particularly clear, but it doesn’t really matter. Barbetta is a compelling dancer whose choreography, although sometimes strange looking, is consistently interesting.

Modern Limbic describes itself as a company that stimulates audiences’ imagination through athleticism, visual imagery, and passion, all of which are present in the piece. Barbetta enters the stage wearing a bikini top and a frilly, oversized and multilayered skirt – a tutu on steroids – which she uses both as a costume and as a body covering; a place to hide or emerge from. Her movement is aggressive (but lyrically so), filled with passion, and overflowing with meaning; sort of a cross between contemporary ballet, the passion of flamenco, and the mournful soul of fado. Even though I’m not certain I understood Before, Shade Shines, I enjoyed it.

The choreographic emphasis in From the Dust, performed by Six Degrees Dance, is on the depiction of balanced, ordered life cyclically emerging from some chaotic void. Choreographed by Placenti to unidentified music by Max Richter, the piece is bathed in a sort of celestial haze. Four dancers emerge from crouched positions somewhat sequentially, but with distinct personalities (Kristen Klein being much more intense and dramatic than the others), and gradually become alive and aware. Rebecca Ross joins them as somewhat of both an antagonist and unifier; a force who repels the others but also attracts them, and against whom they both rebel and submit. Then the four sentient beings return quietly to the dust from which they came.

While Placenti’s highly lyrical and balletic choreography is always enjoyable to watch, here things move too quickly, with the action seeming to be a condensation of (or excerpt from) something larger. As well constructed as it is, From the Dust left me not so much wanting more, as needing more. Perhaps I’ll find it in next year’s program, which I’ll look forward to.