Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Chamber Dance Collective at the Stissing Center

Nocturne, choreography by Martha Clarke. Photo by Richard Termine, courtesy of New York
Theatre Ballet. Dancer: Guyonn Auriau in a 2017 performance at 92Y

After a particularly momentous week on Earth that included a wicked windstorm downing trees and power lines, an earthquake, and an eclipse, seeing An Evening of Master Choreography with Chamber Dance Collective at Stissing Center in Pine Plains definitely felt like a balm. It marked the unofficial start of the vibrant cultural season upstate, when foliage blooms, birds and insects emerge, and performance thrives.

It also showed how inventive artists and presenters can be given modest resources. The Stissing Center dates from 1915, and after several iterations (including a laundromat) and lying fallow for decades, was given an elegant modern renovation, reopening five years ago. It has a fairly compact stage—four dancers (Amanda Treiber, Mónica Lima, Giulia Faria, and Julian Donohue) and pianist Michael Scales filled the proscenium—but it didn’t feel small. The trick is choosing great repertory that fills the space yet stays within the constraints.

Catherine Tharin, a dance writer and scholar, programmed the event (as well as two programs later this year). This slate was curated by Diana Byer, who founded and ran New York Theatre Ballet for many years, stepping down recently. The works performed at Stissing proved a wonderful mix of the billed “masters”—Jerome Robbins, Martha Clarke, Richard Alston—plus young choreographer / 
dancers who may earn that moniker in the future: James Whiteside, Melissa Toogood, and dancers Treiber and Donohue. Scales played two musical interludes as well, making for a lively, packed 70-minute bill.

Mamborama, choreography by James Whiteside. Photo by Richard Termine,
courtesy of New York Theatre Ballet. Dancers: Amanda Treiber and Mónica Lima
in a 2022 performance at Florence Gould Hall

Byer is a renowned figure in the ballet world, and the dancers showed her Cecchetti style training, although not all of the pieces were strictly classical. The most balletic works were Robbins’ Rondo (with playful variations on pointe and big chainés and leaps) and Alston’s The Small Sonata, with dramatic archer poses and Amanda Treiber tenderly wrapping a leg around Julian Donahue—both radiant in their bejeweled, webby tunics. In Treiber’s Wind-Up, the women wore toe shoes as well, and Donahue joined them, creating playful, geometric shapes with a modern feel.

Martha Clarke’s dramatic flair marked Nocturne: wearing only a tulle skirt, head shrouded in gauze with eyeholes, Mónica Lima limped on, a defeated phantasm of a romantic ballerina. She covered her nakedness with her arms and skirt, trying to flap her vestigial wings, and collapsed. She untied the red ribbon from her neck, using it as a makeshift cane to hobble off. Haunting indeed, and a step beyond the proverbial dying swan. In Toogood’s A Study with Mónica, Lima knelt, palms flat on the stage, and drew her hands up her body and aloft, stretching keenly. Stillness was as important as movement, and precision key in a perfect low arabesque, arms levered in front.

The Small Sonata, choreography by Richard Alston. Photo by Richard Termine, courtesy of
New York Theatre Ballet. Dancers: Amanda Treiber and Julian Donahue in a
2020 performance at Danspace Project

In Square the Circle choreographed by Donahue, the foursome wore sneakers and bright, sporty separates. The movement was equally bold and space-eating, with the dancers uniting in a kind of square dance section. It vied for the flashiest dance on the slate with James Whiteside’s Mamborama (excerpt), with Lima and Treiber in sparkly, cabaret-style tunics and on pointe, zazzing it up with humorous puppy paw hands, snapping and counting fingers, and jazzy rhythmic interpretations.

Departing the Stissing Center, we were offered old-fashioned boxes of popcorn for the road. What a nice gesture after a satisfying, dense, buffet of dance. Two more dance offerings follow: Seoul-Mate, Korean traditional and contemporary dance on June 2, and The Bang Group, featuring David Parker’s contemporary work filled with drama, wit, and rhythm, on Oct 4 & 5.

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