Valerie Kosnevich
KNJ Theater at Peridance Center
New York, New York

April 1, 2003 (viewed online, 10/23)
Lost Without You

Jerry Hochman

How can you tell if a nascent choreographer has the potential to be better than run of the mill? There are several different ways, one of which is to see how much heart they pour into their creation. One would think that that should be a given, but too often I’ve seen choreography by the numbers, that preaches to the choir, and/or that’s predicated on an idea that doesn’t mean much to anyone besides the choreographer.

Based on the choreography of hers that I’ve recently seen online, Valerie Kosnevich pours her heart into her choreography, compounds it with her execution, and succeeds in making something individual, universal.

The title of her dance, Lost Without You, immediately tells you what the piece is about: a woman whose relationship ended unilaterally, and with shocking suddenness, by her partner. So that’s a given, as are the commonality of the subject regardless of how personally true it may be, and the likelihood that the piece will be inherently maudlin. But Kosnevich takes her choreography and performance (which was recorded this past April and which I viewed online last month) beyond those limited parameters and creates something beyond the ordinary. That’s what’s supposed to happen in solo dances choreographed and executed by dancer/ choreographers with significant experience. When it happens with an emerging choreographer, that’s cause for celebration.

Valerie Kosnevich in “Lost Without You”
Photo by Morgen Purcell

Before I discuss Kosnevich’s dance, first a bit of background.

I’ve become aware of a competition in Italy aimed at encouraging young choreographers. There probably are many such competitions, but because they’re relatively obscure compared to those that are well-known throughout the ballet world, I’ve only recently learned about this one. This event, the International Ballet and Contemporary Dance Competition Domenico Modugno (produced by the Bell Art Cultural Association) invites both live competition and online competition by digital submission (judged separately from the live performances). [With the name “Domenico Modugno” appended to it, as far as I’m concerned the competition already has a leg up. Modugno, who died in 1994, wrote, and sang, a song that was a world-wide hit even though it was sung in Italian: “Nel Blu de Pinto de Blu” (aka, more commonly, “Volare”) – the original version. I remember singing it when I was … a lot younger, in what I could replicate of Modugno’s Italian.]

The bulk of the online submissions (as well as the live performances) are from Asia (primarily China) and Eastern Europe, but occasionally entries are received from other locations. Kosnevich, a rare U.S. entry, won first place in last year’s (2022) online competition in the Professional Contemporary category, and was listed in the top 10 for the 2023 online competition in the same category. Then she was recognized again in June, in the related International Dance Talent Competition.

My understanding is that most of the online contemporary entries included acrobatics and crowd-pleasing “tricks,” which Kosnevich’s piece didn’t. On the contrary, Lost Without You is straightforward; just emotions and movement that reflects those emotions.

The online performance I was alerted to was recorded at a live presentation at the KNJ Theater (Peridance Center) – 2023 Spring Choreographers Showcase – in New York this past April; it was the only solo presented on that program.

Valerie Kosnevich in “Lost Without You”
Photo by Morgen Purcell

Lost Without You is choreographed to an eponymous song written by Freya Ridings that struck a nerve in her native England when it was played on a national television show; her vocalization of it subsequently reached Platinum. Ridings has said that the song was composed during a time of isolation, and being alone. She said that she thought the song was too emotional. “But then it’s turned into almost an empowering thing now – you know, to take a moment of such isolation and heartbreak, and to turn it into something I’m so, so proud of. It’s just the most beautiful feeling.” [From a 2019 online interview on Smooth Radio, a British radio station, subsequently memorialized on its web site.]

What Ridings said is exactly what Kosnevich did – only, to me, far more eloquently and with far less breathless gloom. Much of the dance is keyed, roughly, to lyrics from Ridings’s song. [The soundtrack of the online performance is difficult to understand. I found the lyrics online.] But the moving images she creates aren’t governed by the lyrics; they go beyond them.

Kosnevich’s dance is, appropriately, bathed in dim light, and initially she’s positioned upstage right (viewer’s left). As the song and the dance begin, she’s very obviously in some sort of personal anguish. Costumed in a long dress that adds nothing extraneous to the dance beyond simple elegance, she then proceeds to swirl with her arms outspread, with light contractions together with gestures that, while not explicit, reflect the sensual nature of her memory, and the emptiness she now feels. The swirls lead to groundwork, but not the usual – rather, it’s as if she’s being pulled down by outside forces. Necessarily, she also recreates in visual terms the crushing, suffocating agony that the situation, and Ridings’s song, demand.

And then, still close to the dance’s beginning, something quite miraculous takes place – as she begins to move horizontally across the stage, she tears her heart out, almost literally, with choreographed gestures that communicate all facets of a broken heart, including reaching inside (toward her chest) and then pushing outward, as if trying to open herself and exorcise herself of the painful memory at the same time. It may sound gruesome, but actually her visualization is quite insightful. And almost immediately thereafter, through self-imposed gut-punches and hands raised up to her face, she replicates the sudden realization of how much the now broken relationship meant to her, and how lost she now feels.

Valerie Kosnevich in “Lost Without You”
Photo by Morgen Purcell

While generally limited to flowing within a limited horizontal plane from stage right to left (the visual equivalent of being on a platform, from Ridings’s song) Kosnevich wisely expands the performance area to avoid any sense of artificial limitation – and she uses the extra space wisely as well, by reserving these for flights from her melancholy to briefly capture the memory of what’s been lost. That theme continues periodically as the dance progresses; fleeting memories that she knows she must leave behind – as does reaching out to hold onto what she knows is no longer there. In the end, she strides forward, reluctantly but resolutely moving on, and the viewer moves on with her.

Nothing I could write could satisfactorily communicate the breadth of movement, and the depth of feeling reflected in that movement, in the piece. Even the repeated swirl imagery (reflecting, it seems, being knocked off kilter by circumstances) maintains this sense of variety. It’s quite a lovely little dance, but it’s more than that. Because she maintains a relatively stoic facial expression as well as a dancer’s ramrod-straight posture throughout (though occasionally impacted by visual indicia of the pressure she feels), the piece’s expression is limited to the movement alone. Sometimes in similar such dances I find this uninteresting, but here not only does it make the dance (and Kosnevich) look visually stunning, it avoids any sense of melodrama that might otherwise have been unavoidable. Indeed, the variety and nature of Kosnevich’s near-continuous visual exposition is dramatic without being in the least overbearing, which in the case of a dance as personal and as filled with meaning as this one is, is a tough road to hoe. Part of that success is not limiting her personal (as opposed to stage) space; her movement qualities are expansive; she uses broad choreographic strokes. And the piece not only sufficiently communicates her innermost feelings, it also pulls a viewer in so that the viewer feels with her. That’s an even tougher road to hoe, and Kosnevich pulls it off.

Valerie Kosnevich in “Lost Without You”
Photo by Morgen Purcell

And this is exactly what Kosnevich wanted to do. She’s advised that the piece “definitely could touch people hearts and this is the main purpose for me to create. People go through similar situations in life and experience similar feelings. Going through/ being in a certain situation myself, learning how to cope with it and how to manage my life accordingly, even by just sharing without offering any solutions, could be helpful to people.” Judging by the audience reaction at the live performance, and by the recognition that Lost Without You has received, she accomplished her goal.

I’ve seen solo dances similar to Lost Without You, but the best have been choreographed and/or performed by those with considerably more experience; not, as here, by a young dancer who’s had such relatively little experience. She may have been lost when the piece was created, but she’s found a way out of it, and perhaps in the process, her niche.

In my review of another one of her performances a year ago, I wrote that Kosnevich’s choreography showed a lot of promise. That promise is still manifestly evident, and I look forward to seeing her next creation. [Maybe, for a change of pace, something joyful and uplifting – like “Volare.”]

Kosnevich’s dance is available online, on YouTube.