Thursday, August 31, 2023

Hanging Dance on Frames of Fiction and Technology

Maya Lee-Parritz and Jodi Melnick in Água Viva.
Photo: And Or Forever (Carr Chadwick & Kate Hawkins)

Água Viva
, by Jodi Melnick and Maya Lee-Parritz
Hudson Hall, Aug 27, 2023

“You don’t understand music: you hear it.
So hear me with your whole body.” 
     Água Viva, by Clarice Lispector

Maybe it was best to overlook, on purpose or coincidentally, that the sublimated foundation for Jodi Melnick and Maya Lee-Parritz’s Água Viva is the same-titled book by Clarice Lispector. There’s no apparent plot in the dance, and none to be obviously deduced from the movements—live and on film—that fill an hour. Better to absorb their deceptively simple phrases and gestures; distances, proximities, and duets; and synchrony (or lack thereof) with the sound score, by Jon Kinzel.

Melnick’s movement continues to be entrancing, filled with delicacy, fluidity, and rationale. Her hands make idiosyncratic shapes, contrary to the rote ones ingrained in many dancers from years of ballet training—tensile flexions or oddly skewed fingers. For the middle section, she dons clunky, heeled oxfords, clomping around on stage. Lee-Parritz dances with a boldness and accentuation that simmers below a very coordinated surface. She looks directly at us with the hint of a knowing smile. Her thigh-length braid whips around her body; Melnick tugs on it at one point, like a rein. While they mostly move independently, in sections they sync up, and finally interact, supporting and leaning on one another.

Maya Lee-Parritz. 
Photo: And Or Forever
(Carr Chadwick & Kate Hawkins)

The piece was performed mostly on Hudson Hall’s proscenium stage, with
 the audience seated in traditional rows. But the dancers began by walking up the aisles, placing one hand on the stage apron as if it were a ballet barre, and doing a cursory dance before mounting the stage. A hypnotic video by And Or Forever (Carr Chadwich and Kate Hawkins) featured the dancers mostly individually, upside-down, in front of a saturated dark background, lit by flaring lights that twinkled off their bodies. It’s a dream-like interlude, only slightly asynchronous from the overall tone of Água Viva.

Hudson Hall presented the event in association with The Hudson Eye, an annual festival that blankets a variety of events taking place in Hudson, NY.

Photo: Christopher Duggan

Compagnie Käfig, Pixel
Jacob's Pillow, August 25, 2023

Pixel, by Compagnie 
Käfig of Lyon, France, choreographed by Mourad Merzouki, is an evolutionary step forward for hip-hop/street dance created for traditional proscenium theaters. When hip-hop hit the dance scene decades ago, the sheer physicality, daring, and newness of the form bowled over audiences. But it’s not easy to tailor the explosive, rebellious, battle-ready form into a digestible evening of dance for seated, ticket-buying audiences in hallowed venues. The style born on sidewalks, subway platforms, and clubs is by its nature best seen in short bursts.

In Pixel, digital effects by Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne elevate the 70-minute production to another level. Projected dots and geometric shapes blanket, mass, and blizzard, at times seemingly activated by the performers’ actions. In one scene, a cave-like portal appears. In another, two dancers freeze amid a starry field of snow and as they pivot slowly, the entire graphic plane also pivots, Matrix-style. Robotic candles zoom about the stage, at moments leading on a digital scrim like a drum major. The lighting, designed by Yoann Tivoli with Nicolas Faucheux, on the whole is gorgeous and warm, if slightly dark in segments. Armand Amar is credited for the music, which flows nearly continuously in pleasant waves and rhythmic patterns. A sole woman contortionist (Nina Van der Pyl) performs alongside 10 men; unfortunately her impressive if unnatural flexions become wearying after a few minutes.

Photo: Christopher Duggan

The final sections of Pixel reveal a fundamental weakness of hip-hop performances in the traditional theater setting—the essential vocabulary is fairly restricted, both in breadth and expressiveness. The use of dollies to glide across the stage feels like a forced attempt at stretching out the show, as did yet another segment featuring Van der Pyl folded in half, backward, and a man on rollerblades. But the dancers’ interactions with the digital designs impressed, adding a solid chapter to the art form's story—now celebrating 50 years.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Mark Morris Dance Group Finally Alights at the Joyce

Tempus Perfectum. Photo: Danica Paulos

Mark Morris Dance Group performed at the Joyce for the first time, finally! Some fable would be an appropriate metaphor, whether it’s Goldilocks finding the right bed, or Cinderella getting that right-sized glass slipper on her foot. In any case, MMDG’s small-to-medium scaled rep looked right at home at the Joyce in front of enthusiastic audiences. I saw the second program, but the first bill featured Grand Duo, which seems as if it might feel large on the Joyce stage, but apparently fit just fine.

The company performed two live premieres: Tempus Perfectum, done online in 2021, and A minor Dance. Just four dancers performed Tempus, set to Brahms’ Sixteen Waltzes, Op. 39—Noah Vinson, Dallas McMurray, Courtney Lopes, and Karlie Budge—and they were perfectly matched. A repeating gesture, spreading arms welcoming the viewer, felt geared to a camera, probably a consideration during Covid restrictions, when many dances were  made that way under duress (indeed, a largely dark chapter in dance making). In person, as on camera, it emanated warmth and inclusion. 

McMurray has a remarkable sense of center and balance, on full view in a hypnotic sequence where he repeatedly spins and brakes, but his body keeps twisting. He and Vinson have a preternatural sense of calm, balanced by Lopes’ and Budge’s more fervent approaches. The impulse for Budge’s movement seems to emanate from within, conveying a deeper source. All are riveting, and Morris’ dance here is impassioned and emotive.

Domingo Estrada and Courtney Lopes in A minor Dance. Photo: Danica Paulos

A minor Dance is wittily titled in a nod to Bach’s Partita No. 3 in A minor, BWV 827, which music director Colin Fowler plays live. The dance begins and ends in earnest with a crisp hand clap, first by Mica Bernas, last by Fowler. Several notable motifs emerge: a dancer rises from the floor, basically pulling herself up by her face; jogging; arms flicking to the side; graceful leaps landing in a double hop; skating strides. Most memorably, two dancers hold hands and lean apart, another dancer joins as the first lowers to the floor, forming an undending chain—a dancer wheel! 

A later section has the feel of a défilé, or lively series of stage crossings, including some of the phrases noted above, plus spins and backward slides with arms pulling at diagonals. Morris keeps inventing in small and large ways, and his straightforward way of arranging the body and moving it through space continues to amaze. It’s difficult in its simplicity and lack of affect, rendered expertly by his varied dancers.
Billy Smith, Courtney Lopes, Dallas McMurray, Christina Sahaida
in All Fours. Photo: Danica Paulos

As reminders of the length and breadth of his career, also on the program were All Fours (2003) and Castor and Pollux (1980). The latter felt like a marathon for the dancers, whose bold, angular, and quick movements matched the lively South Asian-influenced score by Harry Partch. All Fours, to challenging music by Bartók, is more strident and darker—literally, with many wearing black costumes against a crimson backdrop, in contrast with a team wearing white. 

Domingo Estrada, Christina Sahaida, Courtney Lopes in Castor and Polllux. Photo: Danica Paulos

The dancers repeatedly held one arm outstretched, the other hand cupped over an ear as if straining to hear or notice something; they hold a thumbs-up pose; or fling their arms back, raptor style. Its more serious tone and bold movements balanced the lighter, more harmonious feel of his newer work, but as a whole, the program represented Morris’ range. I'm glad the company chose to show at the Joyce rather than their in-house black box studio, as in previous years—these works deserve the formality of a proscenium, a larger audience, and professional production elements.

Farewell to Domingo Estrada, Jr., retiring after joining the company in 2009. His lush groundedness and warm presence will be missed.


On a more somber note, as of this writing, neither Danspace Project nor PS 122 have announced fall 2023 seasons yet. These are two pillars of post-modern dance presentation in New York, and thus the dance world. The cultural sector is rapidly shrinking, shifting, and taking drastic measures to survive a landscape decimated by the pandemic and changed priorities, likely on a personal, corporate, and governmental level. It seems like every presenter has slashed staff and programming, out of necessity. What happens next? And what happens to the next generation of artists, admin and supporters? It seems like climate change of a different ilk—if not literal life and death, then dire consequences for the life of art.