A predictable career escalator carries dance artists from the city’s small spaces to its larger ones, from local gigs to national touring. Competent choreographers who work the system can show annually, and wind up being produced, instead of bearing all the costs themselves. But Barry Oreck and Jessica Nicoll, who perform Friday through Sunday at St. Mark’s Church, don’t ride that escalator; they’ve taken another career path entirely.
Nicoll, a Sarah Lawrence grad who performed with Kei Takei and Phyllis Lamhut, is a terrific children’s dance teacher, working from the 92nd Street Y and Spoke the Hub Dancing, and in schools through ArtsConnection. Oreck, an ArtsConnection program director now pursuing a doctorate in educational psychology, helped found New Mexico Danceworks. They’ve worked closely developing programs that link art-making and education. But since their first rocky meeting in 1983, they’ve thrived as dance partners. They don’t cochoreograph—”We tried that once,” says Nicoll, “and at the end of one rehearsal I said, ‘Thank you very much, we’re not doing this again!’ ” They collect duets by artists they admire.
“We love dancing together,” says Oreck, “and when you do good pieces they should have a life beyond three nights in a studio.” In New Mexico, his former professor Gerry Glover set Play Ball, her signature work using images of great baseball players from print and film, on them as a duet. Pam Harling, in whose work they first met and learned to despise each other (“I called Barry ‘coach’; he called me ‘the ballerina bitch,‘ even though I’d never been a ballerina,” recalls Nicoll), came through with her 1979 Down, Dog, and Kennel! From Ann Carlson they got a 1988 work tracing a life from birth to death in 12 minutes. From Beth Leonard came the new Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?, which takes ballroom dancing into the realm of the absurd.