writers on dancing


Fresh Tracks

Fresh Tracks
choreography by Jeremy Laverdure, Daniel Linehan, Felicia Ballos, Jonah Bokaer, Yuka & Yoko, Malinda Allen
Dance Theater Workshop
New York
November 26 & 27, 2004

by Nancy Dalva
copyright © 2004 by Nancy Dalva

"Fresh Tracks," says the organization web site, is "Dance Theater Workshop's longest-running series of new dance and performance. Featuring works by emerging choreographers and performance artists selected through open auditions... the six artists selected possess unusual potential and striking imagination."

This is a lot to live up to, and I am not really sure that I wish to be struck by someone's imagination. (Novelty is over-rated.) But what this series indisputably offers is a chance to see several choreographers in one night, catching up on someone whose work you might have seen before, and covering a bit of the waterfront you have left untrammeled. On this bill, there seemed to be some sort of cultural agenda, so that you didn't so much get a whiff of the zeitgeist as a contrived slice of it. A politically motivated solo (Malinda Allen). A drama-tinged narrative duet (Jeremy Laverdure). A character portrayal (Felicia Ballos). A silky Butoh meets Yoga item (Yuko and Yoko). A quirky self-portrait (Daniel Linehan). And someone with "an appetite for indeterminacy," and an interest in technology.

This last would be Jonah Bokaer, the only choreographer whose work I had seen and heard about before (at Danspace at St. Marks, at a DanceForms computer workshop at DTW, and with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, of which he is currently a member). I went to see what he would do here, and I was not disappointed. His solo, called "RSVP," transpired as a series of phrases he performed in diagonals of light, no light, and shifting light, so that how much you saw of any given segment seemed random. (Hello, "Winterbranch," that signal Cunningham dance where Robert Rauschenberg slashed the night with blinding lights!) In addition, the score, a sound installation by Bokaer engineered by Loren Kyoshi Dempster, felt random, as it involved people playing music on their cell phones from throughout the audience. (Hello, second generation! Dempster is a superb cellist, not that that was called on here, whose father, the composer Stuart Dempster, has worked with Cunningham.)

What a pleasure to see not the anxiety of influence, but the blessing of influence. Bokaer has precision, clarity, and command. And of course technique, always a boon to the viewer as well as the performer. The structure of his brief piece was clear, yet complex—Forsythian in its tendency towards linguistics, Merceian in its tendency towards choreography, and its potential for complexity.(Later, I found myself wondering what it would look like with more dancers.) It only fell apart at the very end, when Bokaer just stopped dancing, rather vaguely, and spoke into a cell phone—a gimmick he didn't really need. But he is young, and has plenty of time to make endings.

An appetite for indeterminacy turned out to be helpful all around, as two of the other pieces on the bill weren't seen as intended. In any event involving more—or-less neophytes—including any whose goals might seem to me dubious—I look for choreography that fulfills the maker's intentions, a gap between desire and execution being the hallmark of the amateur. In other words, no matter what something is and whether it is worth doing, I hope it is done well. However, two of dances night—the third and the fifth—were impossible to appreciate on their own terms. On opening night. After a lengthy pause, during which the audience grew restive, Felicia Ballos gamely, and without announcement, performed her "Fragile Lodging" without a video component which (I was told by a publicist) was integral to the piece. As it was, she seemed to be portraying a little girl or adolescent (gum chewing and attitudinous, so perhaps the latter) teetering about playing grownup. Her tiptoed, lurching progress towards a pair of pumps set downstage hinted at a narrative, but it was impossible to tell more than that she is a plastic mover with an interest in role play. Her opening, which involved sudden exits and entrances with quick backstage cross-overs, was mysterious. One assumes the video component would have set the scene.

Later, "Yuka and Yoko" performed despite an injury to the former. They are a beautiful elegant, gold-clad duo who interestingly combine elements of East and West, claiming Yoshiko Chuma as a mentor. Only after the conclusion of "Shaa kHa," a duet with a serene yet fluctuating dynamic—stillness and motion; repose and force—could the audience see Yuka Kikuchi's injured ankle, whose bindings she had masked with her long skirt. Until she was helped up by Yoko Sugimoto (by default the main mover) and hopped offstage, it appeared that she performed seated and facing upstage by intent. That the dance was "reconceived," as the program put it, so successfully was a credit to the choreographers, but it would have been interesting to see what they really had in mind in the first place.

You might have thought Jeremy Laverdure was also operating under unintended circumstances, because at the beginning of his duet with Tracy Dickson, who is a woman, called "Esperanto," he announced that it was the piece was originally intended for a man, and that we should imagine her as such. He also requested that we imagine a different size stage (smaller, with a slice of visible space really a wing), an ornate red curtain, and added that we could, if we liked, also pretend that he was someone else. This last remark certainly was a clue that the announcement was a high-concept ruse, but I think you could have told from the material itself, suited as it was to the performers and their respective strengths. It was a very feminine-masculine affair, and the choreographer's preface acted as a distancing device. Throughout, as, frequently to RKO Pictures Orchestra musical swells, they romanced each other, one wondered about their dynamic. If this were two men, you thought, would one be subjugating the other? Would one be perhaps unduly dominant? What do we usually take for granted in a duet like this, and should we?

Malinda Allen, too, wanted us to think, but her text was integrated throughout her piece—rather like the way Tricia Brown uses text and movement in her "Accumulation With Talking." That is, the text—which here was about the viruses, as themselves and as metaphor—and the dance occupied the same space, but did not rely on one another. One was reminded, too, of Neil Greenberg, who has mined this kind of material with such graceful consequence, and also uses projections of words. (Here, they were on the floor.) Allen is a very strong dancer, and compelling to look at, but not much in the way of a choreographer. With material like this—her own ferocity, her flexibility, her balance, her uncanny extensions and articulate ankles, and her message—that doesn't seem to much matter.

The other soloist on the program, Daniel Linehan, mines his body for material, rolling on the floor, stopping partway through somersaults, and so forth, but edits himself keenly. He is slight, pale, and frenetic, and accompanies himself with his own breathing, mewing, and such, in a little orgy of self-revelation that, because it is strict, is never cloying. His was the oddest dance on the program, the one most likely to attain cult status should the choreographer, in fifty years, find himself the father of a modern dance company. Who knows?

Meanwhile, what I really want to see on a program like this is a choreographer whose work I want to see again. That I did, and more than one, and I'll be back.

First:   Felicia Ballos in her "Fragile Lodging" Photo by: Julieta Cervantes
Second:  Allen Body Group, Malinda Allen in "Antigen" Photo by: Julieta Cervantes

Volume 2, No. 46
December 6, 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Nancy Dalva


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last updated on November 29, 2004