Sinners, Idols, Angels

Honoring Roots and Breeding New Strains

Wild girls storm Performance Mix at the Joyce Soho. Jennifer Allen wears a short, tight dress and frowzy red wig. Sharp, glowering moves. Stillness. More glowering. Crackhead Barbie. Number 13 is an improvisation by Allen, Fritz Welch, and an accomplice on percussion and electric guitar, and Drew Pisarra reading text that the music drowns out. Allen—always compelling—jolts formidably on the floor as if short-wired to the guitar.

Katharine Livingston charges a folding chair. In 1972, David Gordon investigated chair moves with witty formality. A combat suit and wacky helmet clue us in to today's sensibility. Crash! Blam! After exhausting herself in The Elusive Easy Way by clambering around and through the chair, Livingston finally figures out how to sit on it.

In a fascinating excerpt from Yvonne Meier's Mad Heidi, Jennifer Monson fixes us with beady, raging eyes and slams her booted feet into the floor. The stamping leads into a clumsy dance that repudiates the sweet, yodeling voices on tape; the distorted church bells might be ringing inside her head. Shockingly, Monson disrobes and dances erotically with a push broom.

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The women in Aviva Geismar's Scenes From Country Life repress their wildness. This work-in-progress inspired by Chekhov is unformed, but makes me want to see the finished dance. Geismar makes private emotions change the body—letting a thrust go limp, a stutter burst into sweeping steps.

Diane Jacobowitz's Brooklyn-based KIDS' COMPANY does David Dorfman proud in his Subverse, and vice versa. He sensitively explores the talents of the 11-and-up dancers, getting them fine music by Hahn Rowe and stylish costumes by Robin McKay. I'd guess that Dorfman, besides building robust themes, gave the lively kids assignments that he then polished and manipulated. Brief duets and trios surface, and everyone gets a chance to shine.


In Philadanco's program "On the Shoulders of Our Ancestors" at the Joyce, four black dancemakers honor their roots. Videos and slides clue the audience in to history and the choreographers' takes on it (a great idea, with seriously flawed voice-overs).

In Trance Atlantic, Walter Nicks acknowledges Katherine Dunham, Africa, and dances of the diaspora. A masked priest yields to four Havana beauties working their yellow-satin-clad hips. A horde of Brazilians garbed for Carnaval snakes about. Double air turns and spins look grafted on, but Nicks stages festivity with theatrical savvy. Milton Myers acknowledges Alvin Ailey in a videotaped interview, but credits Joyce Trisler with teaching him about form. A Celebration of Alvin Ailey presents familiar moves like the tilted, sky-high extension, and patterns that recall the classic Revelations. Myers expertly balances unison exaltation with solos and duets, keeping the whole business clean and on the boil, as does John Adams's music.

Although David Brown acknowledges Martha Graham, his Labess II owes more to Zap Mama's music (layers of rhythmic chanting holding steady under a solo voice) and to vogues for unisex costuming and same-sex partnering. William H. Grant III emphasizes Brown's elegant linear designs with corridors of light. Brown's musical sensibility, alas, is often opaque.

Like David Brown, Ronald K. Brown tends to ramble, but the beauty of his movement—rooted in African tradition, wholly personal and expressive, rhythmically vital—knocks me out. We just about go nuts when Candace A. Whitaker starts lashing her long limbs around. Ron Brown mainly honors God and dancers as "soldiers walking toward heaven," making safe the way. Watching one another tenderly, exploding their entire beings into dance, the performers open heaven's gates. Philadanco's people are wonderful: gutsy, intelligent, technically strong. Kim Y. Bears! Hope Boykin! More! Dawn Marie Watson, downright gorgeous in Myers's tribute! They'll dance for free at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City, on July 25 at 7 p.m.

 
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