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North Carolina native Chase Brock made his Broadway debut at sixteen, dancing in Susan Stroman’s revival of The Music Man. He soon traded performing for choreography, and now works in a range of genres: show dance, opera, parades; late-night television; video games. This month, he celebrates the tenth anniversary of his troupe, the Chase Brock Experience, with a two-week Off-Broadway run comprising dances spanning from his first season (the lively 2007 Slow Float, to vocals by the late, great Laura Nyro) through a world premiere developed this spring.
On a bare, black-box Theater Row stage, fifteen dancers rotate in and out of several pieces, mostly to songs with words; all the music is recorded. The evening’s premiere, Men I’ve Known, comes somewhere in the middle; it’s one of only two works to instrumentals, here Erik Satie’s plaintive piano solo Ogives. The movement is mostly slow and dark, like the music. The stage is dark, too, lit primarily with a few candles carried in by the four male dancers, and some crafty sleight-of-light by designer Carl Wiemann. The men stare at us, support one another, tumble to the floor, and embrace.
The other instrumental is Claude Bolling’s Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano #1, Baroque and Blue, to which Brock in 2009 made a pretty literal duet, here performed by Macy Sullivan and Amber Barbee Pickens in sneakers. Sullivan acts out the flute line, while Pickens dances the piano part. We might be watching a college dance concert somewhere in the heartland, with eager performers clad in flippy costumes. But this is the center of New York City’s theater district, and most of the personnel involved have impressive professional résumés. Why, then, am I feeling so detached from the material? Possibly because, separated from the need to advance a narrative, the choreography itself doesn’t stand up well.
The show opens with its longest piece, the 2014 The Song That I Sing: Or, Meow So Pretty, to twelve numbers by the large folk group the New Christy Minstrels, founded in 1961 and still in business. Five smiling dancers, including the sublime Caleb Teicher, race through a panoply of styles including clogging, tap, jitterbug, Irish step dancing, and a coy routine in which they all fidget with black eyeglass frames.
In addition to being a musical-theater nerd, Brock is, it would seem, a digital native. Now in his mid-thirties, he’s learned how to slice and dice the data of his creative output the way my little brother, when he was eleven or so, kept track of baseball statistics. Each of the thirty dances in his repertory has its own alphanumeric code, and each performance of each item on this tenth anniversary program is also numbered — for the record, I saw the fourth performance of Splendor we only partially imagined, a 2015 work to songs by Kishi Bashi — as though they were precious relics in some museum collection. Documented in both the concert playbill and the handsome souvenir program, all these stats illustrate a colossal degree of self-involvement. More ink is devoted to discussing a near-death experience by one of his dancers in rehearsal than to Brock’s thinking about his art.
If you’re looking for light entertainment, you could do worse than spending a couple of hours in the company of these game dancers. Every seat in the house is a good one, and the tickets are pretty cheap. Brock’s work seems to move its young audience, but it doesn’t move the medium. For true dance innovation, you still have to head downtown.