writers on dancing


Looking Back

From Alpha to Omega: A Five Year Retrospective
Nejla Y. Yatkin/NY2 Dance
Dance Place
Washington, D.C.
Sunday, November 14, 2004

by Lisa Traiger
copyright © 2004 by Lisa Traiger

Nejla Yatkin has the most incredible back. Long, lean, toffee-colored and muscular, it ripples and undulates, curls and lengthens like a Rodin sculpture come to life. In the deep shadows, her back tells stories of tortured souls, loves lost or regained, hope and fear. Ms. Yatkin says all this without turning around in her four-year-old "Echoes of Hope for Those Still on the Ground." The work is a wonderment, tracing the life of one everywoman from birth to death to life in the unknown hereafter. Closing Yatkin's evening of choreography, which spanned her past five years working as a solo artist in Washington, "Echoes" is one of the works that put Ms. Yatkin on the map as a thorough, thoughtful and thoughtful choreographer. It's the kind of piece that makes one want to see more of this young dance artist, who will be receiving the Mayor's artist award next month and has been named one of 25 to watch in an upcoming issue of Dance Magazine.

"Echoes" begins with that beautiful bare back. Below the waist, Ms. Yatkin is draped in voluminous folds of white, which unscroll as she is drawn upstage, to a set of stairs where she reveals a pair of feathered wings. Following this heaven sent apparition. Yatkin appears again, as if in utero, enwrapped in a translucent bubble of fabric from which she births herself. "When the child was a child," a voice whispers in German, underscored by English on the screen, "everything was full of life and all life was one." These words from German lyric poet Rainer Maria Rilke served as the inspiration and the grounding of this work. The poem and Ms. Yatkin's choreography both trace the passage of a life from birth through childhood, to maturity and ultimately to death and the unknown. With a few simple props—Ms. Yatkin's jet-black length of hair, a bench, a bowl of water, a jump rope —the dancer learns to stand, wobble and walk. She's a playful, innocent, with two braids framing her face. Then in smooth transition, she's a serious soulless businesswoman, her angular forms, elbows jutting, knees slicing, a long leg reaching skyward. But there's no gleam in her eyes, just focus on the task at hand. Finally, Yatkin changes to a white nightgown, bathes her hair in baby powder and finds for herself a stooped shuffle. Then how poignantly Rilke's words echo for the child is no more. "Echoes" is not a complex work, but it demonstrates the possibilities of Yatkin's visual and choreographic sensibilities. She has a sharp eye for designed elements, an introspective soul and exceptional technical capabilities.

"After" is a post-9/11 piece that has not grown up quite so easily. Ms. Yatkin uses video and motion capture techniques to accompany her as she stretches her long legs, lunges deeply and curls her languid torso. The work, accompanied in the program by Pablo Neruda's Sonnet XCIV, is meant as an exploration of the range of emotions confronted with loss. But "After" ultimately feels strangely bloodless. Perhaps it's the technical elements, the scrim from behind which Ms. Yatkin begins and the video, with its stick-figure of a cartoon dancer, motion capture sensors noticeable on the joints, seeming oddly empty set against the muscular physicality that Ms. Yatkin imbues her movement. The display of empty shoes, too, was uncharacteristically disaffecting, rather than moving one to recall losses it felt like a design trap, and a replication of other artistic displays—the jumble of shoes of genocide victims displayed the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum—comes to mind. Perhaps, because they all appeared to be women's shoes of a similar size, the uniformity broke the metaphor.

Ms. Yatkin danced an enchanting solo tango in "Journey to the One, a Tango," which she revised from her group work of the same name created last year. The 10-foot train of her burgundy red skirt, swirled and enveloped the dancer recalling the fabric and light trickery of Loie Fuller. As Yatkin turned her skirt became a rosebud, a mountain, trembling wings of a butterfly. A small study, "Journey" is lovely in that it demonstrates how well connected Yatkin is to the early moderns, solo dancers all. Trained in Germany, Ms. Yatkin performs with a quality not often seen in American-trained modern dancers: she has a definition and plasticity in her approach to movement that belies the loose-limbed release technique that has usurped much of contemporary dance for the moment. Ms. Yatkin as a dancer always knows where her body is in space and in relationship with her choreographic intention. As a choreographer, Ms. Yatkin has a keen and focused eye. There's nothing shoddy or imprecise in her work; every movement, every moment has been planned for. It's been a pleasure watching this artist develop. Her five-year concert retrospective bodes well for future projects from Ms. Yatkin's creative wellspring.

Volume 2, No. 43
November 15, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Lisa Traiger


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