Crossover Dreams

Bessies' Heart Belongs to Foreign Nationals

Of 30 citations presented at September 20's New York Dance and Performance Awards, 11 went to working artists whose residence or base of support is abroad. Another three went to members of the John Jasperse Company, whose most recent project originated in, and was heavily funded by, Frankfurt, Germany.

A magnanimous interpreter of this development would say that, in their 18th year, the downtown-centered awards have matured and embraced an international community. A more cynical—and probably more realistic—observer would note that the awards followed the financial resources, and that much of the strong work we saw last season was funded and nurtured by cultural ministries in Germany, Belgium, Israel, and Canada.

However you spin it, the ceremony at the Joyce was a pitch-perfect marvel of style, order, and infectious wit, propelled by the dance vignettes of Lawrence Goldhuber and Keely Garfield. Their zany takes lent a loopy, intimate atmosphere to the proceedings, reminding us that dance is at its best an expressive medium, and that comedy—even musical comedy—is a powerful dramatic tool. The audience, resplendent in autumnal black, was paced by Stanley Love in a clingy sheath criss-crossed with three tiny shoulder bags and Arnie Apostol teetering atop his size 39 Manolo Blahniks. Onstage, presenter David Thomson appeared in a gown we'd seen earlier on co-host Laurie Uprichard.

Cortez & Co., shaken and stirred
photo: Tom Brazil
Cortez & Co., shaken and stirred

Choreographer-creator awards honored Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar of Big Dance Theater, Pina Bausch, Sarah Michelson, Donna Uchizono, Yasmeen Godder, Reggie Wilson, the Wooster Group, and Ohad Naharin. They took home checks courtesy of Time Out, as did performers Dominique Mercy of Bausch's troupe; Marta Coronado of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's Rosas; Miguel Gutierrez, Parker Lutz, and Juliette Mapp of Jasperse's troupe; and Paul Matteson, Kate Valk, Carolyn Hall, Karen Graham, and Nina Watt. Ward Shelley, Jesse Bercowetz, and the creative team of Mir2 won for their performance installation. Visual design citations went to Matthias Bringmann, who conceived the set for John Jasperse's eerie Giant Empty; Axel Morgenthaler for the set and lighting of Luna, by Montreal's O Vertigo; Melanie Rozema and Jeroen Teunissen, whose Velcro and other innovative costumes held David Parker and the Bang Group together; and Jan Versweyveld, who designed de Keersmaeker's Drumming. Composers Mike Iveson and Guy Yarden were honored, and special citations went to three pillars of the city's dance establishment: Madeleine Nichols, who heads the dance division of the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts; Beverly D'Anne, longtime custodian of the dance program at the New York State Council on the Arts; and lawyer-performer Ted Striggles, who has done everything possible to keep dance artists working.


A year after September 11, the danced responses to the terrorist attacks are beginning to emerge. Some seem self-indulgent and self-involved; others evidence months of careful development. In the latter category I'd put Hernando Cortez's Two Hours That Shook the World, performed at Danspace Project September 12 through 15.

Cortez, who's spent the past decade running Dancers Responding to AIDS and choreographing, made an obvious but totally appropriate choice in setting part of his new work to Buffalo Springfield's prescient "For What It's Worth." Two Hours made many good choices, including the two long muslin panels suspended from the balconies of St. Mark's Church. They didn't fall down, and their upper sections fielded simultaneous projections of the choreography, shot previously in rehearsal clothes, while dancers in dresses and business suits sped through the plaza-like space they defined. The performers' faces were riven with alarm as they made gestures indicating nausea and abdominal pain, injury and agony.

Watching this danced re-creation of the fraught situation, though, I couldn't help thinking of Nero fiddling while Rome burned. Cortez takes on the artistic directorship of Cleveland's Repertory Dance Project this fall.


At Alice Tully Hall on September 17, as part of the Verizon Music Festival, Ailey II threw a party on a narrow strip of stage fronting the McCoy Tyner Quintet. Choreographing this bash, to six tunes by richly gifted pianist Tyner, was Troy Powell, whose association with the Ailey organization began when he was nine. Twenty-four years later he demonstrates that he's mastered the house style and has a sense of occasion, crafting his dances to blend with and support the band. The acoustics in the hall were pretty muddy, but it was great to be able to concentrate on Powell's jazz ballet; the slinky costumes, along a spectrum from brown to bright burgundy, let the performers gleam subtly against the wood paneling of the platform. Because the concert hall stage has no wings or curtains, Powell devised strategies to keep his dancers comfortable onstage even when they were peripheral to the main action. Three women kept time in a sort of girl group riff while their colleagues tangled at center stage. The pieces seemed not quite finished, but were full of lovely nuggets, a full-frontal display of enthusiastic bodies working in perfect synchrony with the band.

Highlights were Kristina Michelle Bethel's solo, to Tyner's "Desert Cry," and a duet by Khilea Douglass and Kirven J. Boyd to his "Memories." The entire enterprise had the flair and focus of an industrial show whose mission was to sell jazz—when it wasn't looking like a very elegant dance at the gym. Successful at both levels, the event was a model for attracting crossover audiences, bringing the dance crowd to live jazz and Tyner aficionados to the pleasures of the Ailey aesthetic.

 
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