Intimate Speyer Hall at University Settlement could barely contain the fearless whoosh of energy flying from Eva Silverstein’s Skin-to-Skin, her first full-evening work, launched May 17. To a collage score assembled and augmented by the troupe’s music director, Guillermo E. Brown, the piece bounces off the walls and windowsills through this weekend.
Silverstein, artistic director of Silver-Brown Dance, studied at the Joffrey and Paul Taylor schools and with Carolyn Adams. She makes dances that have the verve of Taylor, the open-chested elevation of Ronald K. Brown, and the structural naïveté of a recent college graduate. She and Brown both came out of Wesleyan in 1998. In the old days, they’d have served apprenticeships with older artists before launching their own troupe. But all the paradigms are different now, and they seem to have founded Silver-Brown within hours of graduating.
Skin-to-Skin has a cast of five women and one man. One of the women, Jennifer Lau, is Asian American. The work, according to the program, “takes place in a world challenged by racism, sexism, and ethnocentrism,” but what we see onstage are slim, pretty women (the others are Carolyn Cryer, Maggie Thom, and Gry van Merkensteijn) and one guy (Aaron Ashby) dancing full out, in summery outfits or slinky black sequined ones, tight shorts, revealing mesh shirts, and the like; in the last act the women wear long gowns reminiscent of the Taylor masterwork Cloven Kingdom. Silverstein, who may weigh 100 pounds soaking wet, carries Lau with aplomb. While the interactions in the piece are occasionally hostile, they’re usually friendly and supportive. Sorting out how the movements connect to the program is a real challenge, and deciding whether a pair of women dancing together implies romance, sororal affection, or just the endemic shortage of capable, affordable male dancers is another.
Brown’s eclectic score ranges from the familiar tones of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to a deconstructed, decayed version of Judy Garland singing “The Man That Got Away, ” with stops at hip-hop, ’60s pop, and Otis Redding. Both Brown and Silverstein draw on a vast arsenal of cultural references and styles. When Silverstein figures out how to make her movement carry the weight of (or simply replace) her philosophy, rather than aspire to representing it, she’ll have come a long way toward communicating through dance.
Be warned: As you enter the Met to see American Ballet Theatre this season, a newly installed phalanx of security folk will relieve you of your extra baggage in a peremptory manner (you can reclaim it at a basement table after the performance). I’m not sure whether to feel annoyance, fear, or pride at this development; can the terrorists really be planning to take out our ballerinas?
ABT is a primary violator, in a sense, of the U.S. embargo on trade with Cuba. Several of its leading male dancers trained there; the newest arrival, Carlos Acosta, comes to New York after stints in Houston and with London’s Royal Ballet. He lit up the stage at the company’s gala, dancing a pas de trois from Le Corsaire with Paloma Herrera and fellow Cuban José Manuel Carreño, soaring to serious heights and gleaming with legible passion.
Acosta was missing from an all-Tchaikovsky lineup last week, and though this is a troupe well stocked with terrific men, his absence was felt (I did spot him at the back of the house, and got a close-up of his dazzling smile). He’ll be seen in a leading role in Frederick Ashton’s La Fille Mal Gardée on Saturday evening, partnering Nina Ananiashvili, and will partner soon-to-retire principal dancer Susan Jaffe in the two remaining Tchaikovsky evenings, June 7 and 8. The mixed T-bills are a great way to check out ABT’s top-tier talent, and to compare the company’s attack on Balanchine works (Theme and Variations and the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux) with that of the slightly younger troupe, founded by Balanchine himself, playing simultaneously across the plaza.
In Julie Atlas Muz’s The Thing: a dance from the deep, Muz, Matt Mohr, and Janusz Jaworski play in the water. They also play with money: thousands of bright pennies and wet dollar bills. Other bills are stuck all over a small tugboat that sails down the 48-foot channel the artists, with water consultant Watêrgé, have constructed in a former shoe store.
Playing is what Muz does, and she’s been remarkably successful at getting audiences to play along. She currently has custody of a long, narrow space just off Times Square. It came equipped with banks of wooden cubbyholes formerly used to shelve shoe boxes, and these have been integrated into her set, stuffed with rocks and other props that move the piece along. A shallow, keyhole-shaped pool runs down the middle of it, surrounded by stumps on which the tiny audience perches; we’re asked to shed our shoes and socks and are given hooded ponchos as protection from splashes and spray. The floor around the pool is practically paved with pennies.
I would kill for that shelving. I’m of more mixed mind about the work as a whole. Barely half an hour long, it has an associative structure rather than a plot. It begins as Muz, in high-heeled pumps and a trench coat, gets up from a long wallow at one end of the pool, only her lower torso visible to us from under a set of flaps. She walks slowly toward the other end, carrying a briefcase full of water and pennies, pulling handfuls of coins from her pockets. Arriving at the broader, circular end, she’s joined by the two men; utterly deadpan, they do a go-go dance in the water, standing and sliding.
From time to time the piece comes to a deliberate standstill, as Muz poses like the White Rock girl. One of the guys tosses pennies at her. The other one stalks down the pool like a flamingo, a big seabird papered with wet cash. The sound ranges from industrial to nautical; we hear a foghorn in the distance, we watch the little boat. The performers play with knotted sheets, have an assignation to the strains of “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and perform a unison trio that melds office and navigational gestures.
By turns pastoral and tacky, evoking gay fantasies of Fleet Week and Celtic dreams of leprechauns, The Thing tries to imply something about a journey across the River Styx, but then segues into a Busby Berkeley routine with small, obscenely positioned hoses spurting water. It’s a lot of fun. It left me wanting more—not a longer work, but a deeper one.