Lotsa Layers

by Martha Sherman

The four artists who shared the stage for the first evening of [DANCEROULETTE] New Movement Series had little in common – just as curator Jennifer Lafferty would have it. In its fourth year, this series is not looking to find a theme or connection, but to create opportunities for emerging artists of all dance genres and focus on in-depth investigations of all kinds. On this program, those explorations included darkness and light, surfaces and coverings, movement and words, action and recording. The multi-layered performing space of Roulette – a large central floor, lower stage apron, and upper stage – were used in every piece; and a screen and curtain that split the upper stage offered yet another layer in this series of idiosyncratic works. If, as a whole, the evening wasn’t gripping, the variety and exploration gave an interesting snapshot of what’s new out there.

Abigail Levine opened with “6 Lines” (originally titled “Lefty and Brown” in the program.) Levine, using the main floor, wrapped, tore,  and dropped paper rolls with  heaving concentration. Pushing a small cardboard box laboriously across the stage, first one hand, then another, then her body, high on four animal legs, she shifted the box as it collapsed, first one edge, then another. Behind Levine, on the second level of the stage, her partner Judith Berkson, a singer and musician with an impressive pedigree, created the sound score with a microphone scraped against the floor, and later a moaning verbal accompaniment.

Levine moved to a new paper challenge, the long slow tearing of a brown paper runner, the sound and the fluidity again requiring focused concentration. Later, it was several paper rolls, dropped into patterns on the floor, and long blue tape that was laid out as Levine’s personal tightrope, carefully laid, pressed and danced along. Finally, she reached the top layer of the stage, and the black curtain covering the back screen created waves of texture as she pulled it noisily along its tracks. Both visually and aurally, the artists asked only for attention, not interpretation.

Jessie Gold’s work “Untitled (FOLD)” asked questions about what in art is real. Her dancers, Elizabeth Hart and Nikki Rollason, moved independently of each other for most of the piece, in round-skirted embroidered folk dresses. The dances were elegant and focused, with sweeping arms and long lunges, but it was hard to focus on the dance, because several videographers (and a still photographer at one point) stalked the stage, recording the movement from all sides (and occasionally recording the audience).  All wore overcoats, and moved stealthily around the stage, as if they were Bunraku puppeteers hidden in plain sight. Was it the dance or the film that was the point of the art here? And would we see the recording? (The answer was no). It felt as if the live dance was a way station for some other, more “real,” filmed art – Ceci n’est pas une pipe.

John Hoobyar’s “Solo for Russell Janzen” teased in a different way. In an almost-dark theater, a barely visible video played.  A dancer in fifth position moved in small steps and poses on a grainy film. Janzen, who was just promoted to principal dancer at New York City Ballet, entered the stage, barely visible against the black curtain, indistinct and shadowy. He stripped off a layer of clothing, and began to move. The dance was simple ballet choreography in repeated segments of steps, low jumps and arabesques.  Later, Janzen struck more sculptural poses, like an exotic god hiding in the dark, but the solo was too much work for too little received message.

Finally, Rebecca Brooks entered the space in a white onesie with a hood. Her lithe body was entirely cloaked, though her graceful movement was not inhibited. She led with a shoulder, then her back and neck; as she pointed a finger and a foot, her coverings amplified the long white line. Brooks didn’t dance for long, though.  She sat at a microphone on the main floor to tell us her story, while a projected film played behind of her working in an open studio, with only the edges of the film itself providing boundaries.

As she talked about the turns of her life at the microphone, we watched her creating and trying out movement in recognizable patterns – long stretches in wide Vs that were familiar, and the shift of her body weight against the plane of the floor, as she managed to be weighty and feathery at the same time.  Most notably, her toddler Eden wandered in and out of the film frame, climbing over Mommy on the floor, holding onto her legs. The way in which Brooks continued the work, welcoming the child, not distracted but clearly engaged with her, was its own artistic transformation. Brooks’ movement vocabulary and explorations will continue; but the power of this bond washed over her story and her performance, and promised to impact her work for a long while.

The most engaging elements of this mixed program were the moments when the artists’ thinking triggered our own. There weren’t quite enough of them, but the diversity – and curiosity – of the experiments did offer their own reward.

copyright © 2017 by Martha Sherman

[DANCEROULETTE] New Movement Series: Abigail Levine, John Hoobyar, Jessie Gold, Rebecca Brooks
Roulette, Brooklyn, NY
February 15, 2017

Cover: Judith Berkson and Abigail Levine in “6 Lines.” Photo © Jarrod Beck

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