Noémie Lafrance’s Melt Ends the Summer, DanceNow Heralds the Fall

Gooey doings under the Manhattan Bridge, plus a choreography sampler at DTW

It’s become a ritual for many dance lovers. Labor Day has come and gone; you’ve arrived back in the city from summer jobs and summer vacations, or your apartment is still sweltering and why should that be? If you love downtown dance, you have one appealing option. You can get yourself to Dance Theater Workshop and see some of the 40 choreographers and companies presented by DanceNow strewn over four performances of its Festival Twenty Ten. Highly visible up-and-comers mingle with fresh faces and established dancemakers who wouldn’t mind a little extra exposure.

Co-founder, co-producer, and executive artistic director Robin Staff and her colleagues, Tamara Greenfield and Sydney Skybetter, practice tough love in putting together this 16-year-old season. Short numbers or excerpts are the rule: seven minutes or less. No bows until the end of the evening. How else could we sit and watch 10 dances without seriously challenging our concentration and our backsides? The result is a sampler of the scene. The downside is that we don’t get to know every choreographer well; the upside is that we get an idea which ones we’d like to see more of.

Nic Petry, David Parker, and Jeffrey Kazin in Parker’s "T4Three."
Steven Schreiber
Nic Petry, David Parker, and Jeffrey Kazin in Parker’s "T4Three."
Wallflowers? Noémie Lafrance’s "Melt."
Jerome Madramootoo
Wallflowers? Noémie Lafrance’s "Melt."

Details

DanceNow’s Festival Twenty Ten Dance Theater Workshop
September 8 through 11

Noémie Lafrance’s Melt
The Salt Pile
August 19 through September 12

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As you watch, you can also idly wonder if you’re spotting trends in the postmodern scene or just coincidences. Back in the 1990s and beyond, many choreographers were in love with free flow; dancers flung and lashed their arms, legs, and bodies around. They could look impetuous and voluptuous, or like rag dolls pummeled by high winds. That vision of movement persists with some very fine artists. But at DanceNow’s opening night, I became aware of how a number of the choreographers wanted you to see pictures and retain shapely images. They seemed more interested in precise, controlled movement than in fluidity. Welcome to Staccatoland.

The notion of isolated moments is integral to Deborah Lohse’s Work, since she made it by stitching together moments by 15 different choreographers she knows or has worked with. Lohse is an expert dancer and an adept comedian; gawkiness and grace mingle beguilingly in her lean, tall body (now topped by a shaved head). She makes smooth transitions, though, and is a pleasure to watch, even though the piece is structured like a string of beads.

Emerging choreographer Gregory Dolbashian’s premieres, In Flux, makes you wonder how he defines flux; certainly not as flow, more in terms of abrupt changes. To dense, repetitive music (Son Lux’s Weapons), two women (Marie Doherty and Frances Chiaverini) in trim black outfits mostly stay close together, yanking and pushing each other, making you aware of the angularity of their elbows and wrists. The smoothest—but also the most opaque—thing they do is skid (that must be why they’re wearing socks). The somewhat opaque Cloudburst by another emerging choreographer, Mana Kawamura, is full of falls and sudden moves, abetted by rhythmic crashes by Loituma, but mysterious in relation to Kawamura’s other collaborator, J.S. Bach. Cloudburst is somewhat intriguing, especially when its four women sing in determined discord or cop-opt a single chair. For no apparent reason, Kawamura, who studied in Germany with former Pina Bausch dancers, is alone at the end, thrashing and turning into obliging darkness. Camille A. Brown, reprising Good and Grown from her Joyce performance in August, is a dynamo of punchy, little moves and busy hand gestures close to the body—a contrast to the projected paintings by Justin Morris of dark, clustering faces.

Khaleah London’s precision is for the sinuous—a fusion of modern dance and Africanisms—and she presents herself to us with focused dignity. She’s one gorgeous creature. Slender and long-legged, she dances her Being in a golden overall with a halter-top that bares her sinuous arms. What with her shaved head and the glow of Lauren Parrish’s lighting, she looks like royalty from ancient Africa. The recorded voice of the late choreographer Ulysses Dove speaks about the expressive power of dance. I didn’t sense motifs or developments in London’s choreography, but, then, I was mainly just admiring her presence.

You wouldn’t call David Parker’s heavenly trio, T4Three, staccato, or even percussive, although its movement base is soft shoe and vintage show dancing. But it’s expertly controlled. Like much good comedy in dance, it looks easygoing but makes its points with needle-sharp timing. The performers—Jeffrey Kazin, Nic Petry and David Parker—are stalwarts of Parker’s Bang Group. All are adroit charmers. Parker, large and eager, plays a klutz with hidden foot skills. He and Petry like to sell the routine; Kazin nixes that. Mostly. As they dance for us to “All I Do Is Dream of You,” their little dust-ups, pauses, looks, and sudden, perfect-unison Charleston keep us on the qui vive for small surprises. When they launch into “Tea for Two,” whistling enters the mix (Kazin’s the expert), and the rhythmic ante is upped.

Control—or lack of it—in terms of structuring also figures on the program. For his Mile 21, Jamal Jackson strings the 11 members of the Berean Drum Line across the back of the stage and sends dancers rushing on and off. You get the dizzying feeling that there are more than nine of them, even though Jackson presents them mostly in threes. The performers (often focusing on one downstage corner) work the African-influenced movement with fervor, but the heavily trafficked piece—neither quite a ritual nor exactly a party—comes across as under-rehearsed.

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