Infectious: Untainted Love for Dance from Donna Scro & Freespace Dance

donna for re-postPhotograph of Donna Scro Samori of Freespace Dance by and copyright Lois Greenfield.

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002,. 2019 Maura Nguyen Donohue

First published on the DI on September 23, 2002.

NEW YORK — On occasion one might be lucky enough to see a dancer whose love of the dance is absolutely infectious. Donna Scro continued to reveal herself as one of those dancers in work with her own company, Freespace Dance, this past weekend. Scro shared a program, as well as one progressively unraveling duet performed in parts throughout the course of the evening, with fellow Sean Curran dancer JM Rebudal as part of the self-produced Dance Access program at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church.

Scro is a radiant performer and a capacious dancer. She eats up the space around her and exudes a kind of excitement that practically bubbles over when she’s dancing. In “Paso” (2001), a quartet choreographed with Pilobolus alum Gaspard Louis, she’s a lovably girlish tomboy, willing to play with the boys on their level but on her terms. The quartet is a resoundingly athletic tour de force straight out of the Pilobulus mold but no less enjoyable. There is a cheekiness to the frolicking that keeps the playful work engaging beyond the immediate thrill of taut, daredevil bodies flying through the air.

“Innercurrent,” also choreographed with Louis, featured performances from the company including the equally lithe Amy Brous and powerful Maureen Glennon. Glennon is a co-founder and fellow artistic director of Freespace, which follows a collaborative mission. Louis’s six years with Pilobolus are evident in this work’s derivative partnering and tableaus, but this younger company maintains the kind of active enthusiasm currently lacking from Louis’s former company.

Rebudal’s company, Rebudal DanceGroup, was seriously out-danced in the evening. The company, made up almost entirely of recent Connecticut College alums, had an overall effect of earnest but bland dancing. Rebudal’s “Mercurial Relapse” looked well scrubbed but hardly witty. His dancers need a few seasons before they can handle Rebudal’s athletic movement sense and flair for dramatic phrasing with the kind of command their evening’s partners held.

A helluva year for dance: An American on 42nd St. — At Home with David Dorfman

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2004, 2019 Maura Nguyen Donohue

Celebrating 20 years online as the leading  magazine for the dance profession, the DI is re-visiting 2004, a helluva year for dance and for the DI. As a distillation of American post-modern at the dawn of the new millenium, this one, first published on March 26, should be required reading at college dance departments. To learn how to obtain your own complete copy of the DI Archive, with more than 2,000 critiques of performances, exhibitions, books, and films from five continents since 1998 by 150 critics, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com . Today’s re-posting is sponsored by Slippery Rock University Dance.

NEW YORK — I’ve been thinking a lot about American-ness lately. Actually, I think about American-ness all the time but having been enmeshed in an international collaboration with a troupe from Vietnam for the past few weeks I’ve been thinking about it as related to contemporary dance. Last night, as part of the 10th anniversary season of the 92nd St. Y Harkness Dance Project at the Duke on 42nd Street, David Dorfman Dance provided me with the example I want to cite the next time I have to describe American dance to an Asian peer. We are deep and humorous, adamantly informal and absolute mad dog dancers.

Before the show David Dorfman works the crowd, wandering amidst the audience, saying hellos and pressing flesh like the affable mayor of Danceville. The dancers are warming up on a bare stage that has been stripped to the walls to resemble a working studio. Dorfman later says this choice reflects the disproportionate nature of brief performances versus months of rehearsal. It is most appropriate here, where so much of the process is part of the work.

“Lightbulb Theory,” a premiere, begins with a solo for Dorfman. He walks across the stage, Michael Wall begins playing the piano and I feel a rush of pride or delight or anticipation. I want to nudge my Vietnamese collaborators with a “yeah dawg, you’ll see, we come in all shapes and sizes here.” Dorfman can stun any noviate to modern dance. He’s the sneaky Average Joe who looks like a linebacker and creates work with overwhelming craft. Of course, this crafty choreographer’s greatest gift may be his cultivation of excellent collaborators, primarily dancers. This company could represent a utopian vision of dance-making where dancers are fully creative artists, credited as collaborators and allowed their individuality.

After Dorfman reads a passage referring to fathers and sons, Paul Matteson, Heather McArdle, Jennifer Nugent and Joseph Paulson are revealed first on the backstage balcony performing a post-modern kick line. After then entering through the upstage left door they begin a quartet quietly, as Paulson pounds his fists, reflecting an internal stress. A bright dance follows with a series of movement phrases and marching punctuated by the women’s giddy squeals and shouts of “Wow!” The dancers repeatedly ask us if we’ve heard the two different theories about light bulbs: Some are said to flicker before they go out and some just go out. The text is returned to several times in impressive solos by each dancer, along with the question of whether it is “better for a life, I mean light, to flicker or just go out” and in the midst of infectious dance I’m pondering grief and loss.

Dorfman’s dances can race past you. There are rushes of sweeping movement that flow over you so that in reflection you only remember sparks. It’s appropriate, because Nugent is explosive. She sweeps and kicks and drops with ferocious glee. She is powerful, strong and flexible, cute and sexy. She’s the dancer I want to be when I grow up. When she’s paired with Matteson, the two become a new entity, one creature rabidly devouring the space in a series of thrilling weight shifts.

The evening’s second work and premiere, “Impending Joy,” has an entirely different tone. Chris Peck’s electronic score, also performed live, is a sonic assault. This landscape is painful as compared to the nostalgic feeling evoked by the piano of “Lightbulb Theory.” A pile of wire netting and pickets from a fence sits downstage center. The other dancers pile Paulson with pickets and urge him out of the space. He begins a solo full of direct movement, sharp slices and aggressive drops while Matteson, McArdle and Nugent stand in half of the stage washed in red light, designed by Josh Epstein. Paulson throws himself at Matteson even after Matteson has vacated the space. Then he pathetically drops pickets across the stage. Matteson performs a constricted, distressed solo gesturing to his gut and reaching away while speaking phrases and partial phrases like “You deserve to be” and “You will die.”

There is an automated rigor to the dancing that serves as an enjoyable companion to the expansiveness of the first work. As the piece draws to a conclusion, each dancer pulls parts of the fence apart. Nugent is wrapped in the fence; McAdle winds the metal wire around herself and the men struggle with piles of pickets. As Nugent delivers a series of lines beginning with “This is where…,” a last light cue of red on the balcony sets a hallucinatory tone and I suddenly glimpse the special little hell that home ownership can offer.

David Dorfman Dance continues at the Duke Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 & 7 p.m. There is no show Friday.

Click here to read about Maura Nguyen Donohue / In Mixed Company.

20 Years of telling stories not told elsewhere: This ain’t no Hanoi Hilton

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000, 2018 Maura Nguyen Donohue

(First published on the DI on August 4, 2000, this Flash Dispatch’s re-publication today is sponsored by Slippery Rock Dance . )

HANOI — Chao cac anh chi from Hanoi. I’ve been situated in the seat of a former enemy (to both of my half-selves, American and Vietnamese) for almost two weeks now. After only ten days in Southern China we decided to head to the capital of Vietnam so as to squeeze in a few days of language lessons. Unfortunately, Perry only seems to retain sentences that involve beer. This should make our impending visit with my mother’s family in Central Vietnam and our — ahem — wedding there interesting.

With its many lakes, shady boulevards and parks Hanoi is a more physically attractive city than Saigon. The maze of the charming 1000-year-old Old Quarter provides endless exposure to a rich cultural heritage. However, I have to admit to a heavy amount of apathy in my pursuit of contemporary performance here other than Quyen Van Minh’s Jazz Band (mostly Tom Petty and Nirvana covers). Art galleries abound but performances are harder to find. And my southern Vietnamese and American roots reveal themselves incessantly. The righteous rhetoric gets tiresome and I’ve been biased by a wonderful experience seeing work and talking to artists in the south three years ago about the challenges to artistry in a Communist country. Though people tell me today that things are better than five years ago, I must note that “better” is a relative term. That stated I was still able to enjoy yet another viewing of water puppets as well as a trip to the Central Circus and an unexpected audience for the ritual of an indigenous sect.

Based at the shore of Hoan Kiem Lake is the Municipal Water Puppet Theater (Roi Nuoc Thang Long). At 40,000 dong for a first-class seat, I was able to see this troupe for 1/16 the price I paid to see them at Lincoln Center a few years ago. Water puppetry is one of the few indigenous art forms in a country that spent 1,000 years under Chinese rule, 50 under the French and another 10 dealing with the Americans. It originated among the rice farmers, who carve the puppets from waterproof fig tree lumber. The characters were modeled on the villagers, animals from their daily lives and creatures of myth and legend. 11 puppeteers operate from behind a bamboo screen in waist-deep murky water. The murk of the water conceals some of the mechanics, and allows the puppets to appear and disappear with ease. Many of the puppets have articulated limbs and heads. The series of vignettes depict pastoral scenes and legends. The show includes live music, and I was particularly pleased to hear Ru Con Nam Bo played live. I use this lullaby, played on the Vietnamese monochord, dan bau, in a work about abandoned Amerasian children, “SKINning the surFACE.”

Hanoi’s old-school circus (Xem Xiec) provided an intriguing evening. Many of the performers were trained in Eastern Europe. The relatively simple acrobatics (compared to those of neighboring China) were entertaining, but I thought I was having hallucinogenic flashbacks when the elephant started doing yoga and the monkeys riding bicycles in running shorts.

The most interesting performance I’ve seen (other than the ballets of ‘no-road-rules-traffic’ and ‘street-peddling-women-running-from-the-police-with-60-lbs-of-fruit/tea/soup /etc-in-their-baskets’) was when we accidentally stumbled into a temple ritual on our first day in town. Thanks to a side door and Perry’s newly acquired 80-cent flute, we were invited in to witness a Hoa Hao ceremony. Perry joined the musicians while sister Maeve, Dragon (an auspiciously named Yugoslavian we met at the border crossing from China) and I watched a middle-aged woman dance with incense, fire and bells for the next three hours. She worked her way through at least ten costume changes. With each new outfit came a new story told through movement and props. At one point, she was steering a boat; at another she was a woman selling towels from the bags dangling at either end of her pole. The vignettes each included a bouncing dance that seemed to represent travel and walking. In between each dance there would be a formal walk towards the altar before she’d drop to her knees and bless various gifts. These gifts (cigarettes, raincoats, fruit, cookies, noodles, money, facecloths, etc) were then distributed to the temple and to everyone in attendance. The ironic twist though is that Hoa Hao was started as a reformed Buddhism that embodied personal faith rather than elaborate ritual. Perhaps this is progress, perhaps prosperity. Regardless, they were wonderful people and we’ve since been to two of their homes for dinner. Between leaving the ceremony with bags full of goodies and being overstuffed at their homes, I’m amazed at the generosity of some in a country where the average monthly income is $50. I thought WE were supposed to be the haves giving to the have-nots!

For more information on choreographer-dancer Maura Nguyen Donohue, visit her dance company’s web site.

20 years of telling stories not told elsewhere: Last Call at the Butoh Foundry — Asbestos Kan Bids Adieu to the Hijikata Studio; Kasai Divine as “Lovely Jean Paul”

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2003, 2018 Maura Nguyen Donohue

TOKYO — Sunday, January 19’s show from Asbestos Kan, the company started by Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, marked the final public performance at the historic Tatsumi Hijikata Memorial Asbestos Dance Studio. Hijikata is considered the creator of Butoh. However, he hadn’t specifically set out to make “Butoh,” per se, when he premiered “Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors)” in 1959. The controversial work was based on Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name and premiered during a Japan Dance Association showcase for new choreographers. It has since been cited as the first public showing of the performance movement that Hijikata later named Ankoku Butoh, Dance of Darkness. Four decades later, Hijikata’s Ankoku Butoh has become an internationally recognizable form. Tragically, two days after the performance and on the 17th anniversary of Hijikata’s death, the Tokyo District Court auctioned off the birthplace of Japan’s most influential contemporary performance form.

Close to 75 people crammed into the unassuming basement studio (the back of a van parked outside serves as box office and coat check), slowly filling it until the only apparent performance space consisted of a small spot of about 10 square feet in the corner. Agoraphobic response to the crush of the crowd shifted into a growing claustrophobic panic that I was stuck, sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, without possibility of escape. But these fears were quickly dispelled as a video of abstract, digital bubbles was projected on the back wall, sparse chanting audio drifted through the room, and a kimono-clad woman entered the space. She screamed, the sound of pounding taiko drums followed and “Edo Mandalam” directed by Hironobu Oikawa, began….

(To receive the complete article, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for one year for just $36 by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. First published exclusively on the DI on February 12, 2003.)

Back to the Future: How to access stories on the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager

Returning to its roots as a Direct E-mail List — as the most effective, efficient way to serve our subscribers, writers, advertisers, and readers — the DI will heretofore make all new content, as well as reprints from our 20-year archive of more than 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 writers of performances on five continents, plus news, commentary, art, and the Jill Johnston Archive, available strictly by e-mail. To subscribe to the DI and access both this new content and archived stories, for just $29.95/year individuals or $49.95 institutions, just designate your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to find out about payment by check or in Euros. (In the latter case, the payments will be directed to our European correspondents.) You can also contact us at that address to find out about limited, well-integrated e-mail advertising options.

From the Body to the World: Kim Can Dance — Can I Capture Her?; Cambodian Story-telling from Eiko & Koma & Friends

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2006, 2017 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK — Dian Dong said that she didn’t think anyone had been paying attention when she and HT Chen were awarded a 2005 special citation from the New York Dance and Performance awards (a.k.a. Bessies) for their outstanding service to the community in NYC and NY State. Thankfully somebody on the Bessies committee had taken notice, and all you dance insiders should follow suit, punch their Mulberry St. Theater address into your hiptop and make it a destination in the future. While you’re at it, bemoan the recent missed opportunity to forge a new pathway, find good eats cheap and fast and get an up close and personal look at Sam Kim’s latest, which ran this past Thursday to Saturday.

To receive the complete article, also including Maura’s take on Eiko & Koma’s “Cambodia Stories: an Offering of Painting and Dance” and her own perspective on collaborating in Cambodia, first published on May 23, 2006, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the Dance Insider & Arts Voyager for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI/AV Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading critics of performances and art on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $109 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com.

Pass Me that Gui-tar ‘Fore I Smash Another Beer Can on My Forehead: Stacy Dawson Goes West, Young Woman

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2002, 2017 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK — Stacy Dawson calls her first evening-length work, “Best Western,” a “hallucination that pays tribute to the legacies forged in the underbelly of country and western American folk music.” Like any good hallucination, the work, which played at PS 122 this past weekend, trips through moments of complete obscurity into flashes of incredible brilliance. It moves beyond the obvious Dawson staple of comedic lip-synching into a darker internal journey for denizens of a lonely and heart-broken realm. It’s her delirious homage to country music.

To receive the complete article, first published on February 5, 2002, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at paulbenitzak@gmail.com. Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for just $29.95/year ($99 for institutions gets full access for all your teachers, students, dance company members, etc.) by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to paulbenitzak@gmail.com, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. Subscribers receive full access to the DI Archive of 2,000 exclusive reviews by 150 leading dance critics of performances on five continents from 1998 through 2015. You can also purchase a complete copy of the Archives for just $49 (individuals) or $129 (institutions) Contact Paul at paulbenitzak@gmail.com .

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American Stories: From Civil wars to civil rites — Moving beyond John Brown with David Dorfman & Camille Brown

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009, 2019 Maura Nguyen Donohue

(First published on the DI on July 16, 2009 and re-published today thanks to DI Co-Principal Sponsor Slippery Rock Dance,   this  piece is just one of the more than  2,000 Flash Reviews of performances, books, cinema, and art from around the world by 150 artist-critics covered by the  DI/AV since 1998 . To learn how you can obtain your own copy of the DI Archives, e-mail paulbenitzak@gmail.com. To support the DI/AV’s ongoing work, please make a donation today by designating your gift through PayPal to paulbenitzak@gmail.com or write us at that address to learn how to donate by check. Camille A. Brown performs this Saturday and Sunday at the Joyce Theater in New York.)

NEW YORK — David Dorfman is a messy guy. A subversively messy guy. Not his army of superhuman dancers, nor his luscious, sweeping choreography. Not his design team, nor his vision. Not his workshops for corporate outreach, nor his master classes for athletes. Not his chairmanship of the Connecticut College dance department, nor his stewardship of one of our most important companies — his own. His is not an untidy craftsman, but David Dorfman is a messy artist. Messing with things in disarming, informal, personable, personal, complicated, volatile, well-meaning, demanding, unpleasant and thus deeply, vitally, importantly, and inherently American ways. He will not provide easy resolutions for the violence and chaos of our historic and contemporary foils. But, once again, with “Disavowal,” seen at Danspace Project, he remains ever loyal to banging away at our hostilities in a constant search for our shared humanity.

In “Disavowal,” Dorfman takes famed abolitionist and “race traitor” John Brown as his springboard. Brown’s crusade is as messy as they come, having played a major role in sparking our bitter Civil War. The father of 20 children, he is also considered by some to be the father of American terrorism, a religious zealot practicing armed insurrection and murder. For others, he was a valiant martyr who died so that millions of American slaves could be free. After Brown’s capture and public hanging, Frederick Douglass wrote: “His zeal in the cause of freedom was infinitely superior to mine. Mine was as the taper light; his was as the burning sun. I could live for the slave; John Brown could die for him.” President Lincoln called Brown “a misguided fanatic.” With this figure as one’s model for activism, as with the Weathermen who provided source material for Dorfman’s “underground,” ambivalence abounds.

Dorfman plunders the depths of frustrated fatherhood repeatedly throughout the work, beginning the piece with a propaganda commercial on behalf of the mythic PAPA (People in Advocacy for Perspective Adjustments). Throughout the evening, he embodies a shifting series of patriarchic incarnations — from his familiar role of benevolent company director, persistently warm and affectionately insistent, to dogmatic cult leader demanding violence, absolute loyalty and “tolerance by any means necessary.” Each manifestation of PAPA provides opportunities to consider the easy precipice into tyranny when one is allowed unquestioned influence over another. Kyle Abraham, Patrick Ferrari, Renuka Hines, Tania Isaac, Molly Poerstel, Jenna Riegel, Karl Rogers, and Whitney Tucker devour the space in a number of demanding dance drills and flit between being mischievous urchins and chastised acolytes. They dance like furies, exploding with stunning athletic prowess and seemingly inhuman skill. At times, in the throes of a movement sequence, they seem to have just descended from Mt. Olympus (or the Super Friends Hall of Justice) and then Dorfman yells “Molly don’t run like a girl” and Athena is relegated to humankind once more.

As the piece evolves and the performers reach ever increasing heights of virtuosity, Dorfman manages to exploit the widening gap between good ol’ David and his youthful cadre by tackling the many other gaps that lay between leaders and their people. Regardless of how loving, well-intentioned, or righteous the path may be, those in charge carry a burden of alienation from those they control.

Upon entering the church, I am invited to sit anywhere. Dorfman is seated on an overturned bucket with his arms tied behind him and his legs bound by yarn. The dancers are playing cards on the risers and people are milling around the space in search of good seating. There are no chairs and the atmosphere is that of a town commons of sorts, with members of the company dressed in Civil War-epoch wools. I begin thinking of abolitionism and wondering how far we’ve come from the Civil War, from Civil Rights. We’ve got the Obamas, we’ve got the recent NegrObies — as Village Voice writer James Hannaham dubbed this year’s off-Broadway awards — and while downtown dance seems to be joining the Obie judges in what Hannaham calls the “cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs” phenomenon, I’m still waiting for someone to make a piece about Robert Williams, whose book “Negroes with Guns” offered fair arguments for black armed self-defense. I hate guns, but I’m ready for a darker shade to the hero’s palette.

I find myself happily conflicted for the duration of “Disavowal.” Race and authority are complicated territories and I appreciate that Dorfman offers no answers, but forces us to simmer in the clutter of rights, access, ownership, property and guilt. Hines, a gorgeous recent Columbia graduate who I’ve been tracking in Barnard dance concerts for a few years, proclaims, “I want white. I don’t want to be white. I just want what you have, to be neutral, to be Not a Color. I want to be a person.” The delivery is slightly soft, a little lost coming from a young woman, but the reach is far, for all those who have wished they could find themselves UNmarked, UNpigeonholed, and UNquestioned in their right to stand beside you — in, for instance, a dance piece like this one that happens to need more marked people in the cast in order to foreground the issues of being marked. When Rogers apologizes to Abraham for “everything that’s ever happened to you” and Abraham responds that it’s not enough, the impotency of white guilt seethes through the air. However, when Rogers asks what would be enough and Abraham decides that getting an audience member’s house, a second member’s car and a third to pay his student loans would do it, Rogers then derides him for not earning those things and retracts the apology. It is a witty and biting challenge to a kind of liberalism that wants to achieve equality without sacrifice.

Later in the dance, we are asked to choose the dancer we think we are most like and go sit with him or her. Some of the dancers take some of the audience members who have been sitting by them and bring them on stage, and the fluidity and mobility of the audience experience allows us to feel like we have been together for much longer than an hour. If feels, appropriately, like we are a congregation of sorts, gathering because it is the ritual of our shared community. But the groupings become factions as dancers and audience choose one of two options, with Abraham and Isaac trying to bring Hines and other dancers and audience members over to their small alliance that opposes the growing white majority. However, Hines remains standing, a model of ambivalence.

“Disavowal” is adamantly exhaustive, physically rigorous and staunchly informal, with Dorfman as a democratic despot who revels us with excess and need.

Camille A. Brown is a force of nature; her recent collection of works presented at Joyce SoHo, and seen June 7, was an extensive and exhaustive survey of her unrelenting curiosity. The substantial amount of work offered (after two hours I had to leave with two pieces still remaining) revealed Brown’s abundance of ideas, penchant for hard work, and generosity to her peers — with dances by Francine E. Ott and the ever-exquisite Kyle Abraham included on the roster. Previously known as a dynamic and forceful performer for Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, Brown is quickly making a name for herself as a choreographic voice to be reckoned with. Since her last self-produced concert two and a half years ago at Joyce SoHo, she has been commissioned by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Philadanco, took part in Fall for Dance at Lincoln Center and E-moves at Harlem Stage, and shown why she is a highly sought after commodity on the college repertory circuit, with a jubilant version of “Second Line” set on Hunter College students this past spring. There is broad appeal in her vibrant dance sequences and razor sharp wit.

I was particularly curious to see how Brown’s work compared to Dorfman’s “Disavowal.” A premiere, “Matchstick,” takes a moment 50 years after the Civil War (and 50 years before the Civil Rights movement hits full stride) as its focus. The program also included am homage to Brown’s grandmother and a work in progress looking at more recent “back in the day” junctures in African-American history. I wondered how a younger, black, female choreographer might address issues around race and social responsibilities. Brown does effectively offer a lot to the dialogue, but I soon realized that to saddle her with so much socio-political expectation was unfair. She’s an artist clearly aware of cultural trends, legacies and representations, but she’s also at her best when she is celebrating, joyous, and irreverent. She opens the show with “Mary,” a solo for her grandmother. Though not quite poignant, it is still a lovely dance that I’m sure would have made grandma proud. Here, Brown’s ever-so-fast shifting and super-smooth style detracts from the powerful passage of one woman’s life, revealed behind the performer in a projected collage by Q Ragsdale. Struggles portrayed and efforts embodied are fleeting and become part of a general wash of movement from an exquisite dancer with great command over her physical faculties.

“Matchstick” is danced stunningly by Kevin Guy, Otis Donovan Herring, Juel D. Lane and Keon Thoulouis. It’s a highly theatrical work, set around a table covered in papers laminated onto it that the men repeatedly point at, slap, slice and attempt to sweep away with dramatic arm gestures. With rolling shoulders and fisted punches, they exert tremendous energy matched by the live piano from Brandon McCune and Farai Malianga’s fervent beating on a flamenco percussion box. Brown pushes the dancers until they are drenched and dripping, but as a danced representation of an imagined meeting of community leaders, it wavers around a kind of old-fashioned structure. Not because of its narrative — Bill T. Jones’s recent return of “Chapel/Chapter” to the Harlem Stage Gatehouse shows how narratives can be stunningly and innovatively woven and deconstructed — but because it doesn’t choreographically reach beyond traditional staging and remains mired in literal storytelling. The dancing is passionate, impressive, and dynamic, with expansive and forceful gesticulations reflecting a heated debate. But a deeper poignancy isn’t realized until J. Michael Kinsey arrives to perform poetry by himself and Dana Gournier. It is with this spoken exposition that we gather the specifics of struggle and despair that accompany dreams of migrating north to escape lynching and poverty. As dance theater it works for a general audience and could be highly valuable in dance education settings, but I wanted Brown to delve further into how the movement could have reflected the profound mix of desolation and hope that the text effectively pierces us with.

She’s on much stronger ground in an excerpt of her acclaimed 2007 solo “The Evolution of a Secured Feminine” and a restaging of “The Groove to Nobody’s Business,” a work originally created for her company and later commissioned in an expanded version by Judith Jamison for the Ailey company. Both dances employ highly theatrical devices as well, but the physical vocabularies make for much less generic portrayals and need few words to explicate. Brown effectively channels an abundance of characteristics that are both sophisticated and insistently, deliciously, vernacular.

“1 Second Past the Future,” a group work in progress, begins to a medley sung by Crystal Monee Halls. Antonio Brown, Beatrice Capote, Belen Estrada, Cahterine Foster, Indira Goodwine, Kevin Guy, Eriko JImbo, Juel D. Lane and Rohiatou Siby execute the choreography with expansive vigor. The dance hasn’t reached the complex level of compositional hijinks that Brown achieves in “The Groove to Nobody’s Business,” but Kinsey imbues the piece with lively commentary as a light-hearted heckler who interrupts Halls’s singing and guitar playing with a demand to “bring this to an end.” He critiques the work moving onstage from a seat in the house, complaining that he’s “tired of this modern dance, soul-singing,” calling Halls tired with her “ain’t got no man” blues and telling the “twinkle Joes” to get into position for the next dance. He begins a rant about how people today are different, that men and women behave differently, no longer seeming to care for one another. After a round of playful locking and a mock battle punctuated by Jimbo’s one-handed pike, Halls joins in with Kinsey’s calls for interpersonal compassion, proclaiming: “As we move forward, we’re losing ground.” They call for more sweetness between people and you can sense that Brown has chosen to use this run as a way of creating kinship and not simply as her own showcase. She’s building something far beyond the reaches of any concert — she’s building a community.

The DI, Year One: Different-Abled — Shannon Leans on Samaritans

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2000, 2017 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK — Bill Shannon, a.k.a. Crutchmaster, is a challenge. He challenges the modern dance concert stage in Saturday night’s performance of “Old Rain,” seen at P.S. 122’s second floor theater, and challenges our notions of good Samaritans a little later Saturday night, now downstairs, in his “point and click” video presentation “Regarding the Fall.” He is a provocateur, and I happily admit I have been provoked into a heavy bout of thinkin.’ It’s a delight to again witness Shannon gliding across the stage, having first seen him at an improvisation concert a few years ago. The wings of his custom-designed crutches allow him to slow time and suspend motion midstream. Though “Old Rain” reveals a great amount of personal pain, Shannon still gives us bipeds, at least primarily bipeds, air time to envy. His hips are unable to support his torso due to a rare disease, but his legs work. Paired with the strength of his upper body and NoriCat’s rounded-edge crutches, he’s got the speed and grace of a gazelle.

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