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Flash Review 3, 10-21: Nelson's Array
Spontaneity Sighted; Editing Needed

By Vanessa Manko
Copyright 2002 Vanessa Manko

NEW YORK -- Two dances comprised Jeremy Nelson's first evening-length program, seen Saturday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church: the premiere of "SightUnseen" and "Wythoff's Array." Each explores, metaphorically, the interconnectedness and chance encounters of daily life. In both works there is a sense of things and moments being fleeting. Also present is a sense of traveling and passing, comings and goings. But rather than seeming staged or too mechanical, the works maintain a sense of spontaneity and randomness; a movement phrase originates in a single dancer, and is completed by two others, like a sentence. Nelson's work has the fluidity and rhythm of an intense and deeply satisfying conversation -- one in which ideas are expressed at random and thoughts turn down unexpected paths.

This spontaneity is best exemplified in the premiere of "SightUnseen." A malleable work, "SightUnseen" flows freely from one section into the next. The brightly colored pin-stripped capri pants by Luis Lara add a dash of whimsy to the dance. Beyond Nelson's choreography, what drives this piece is the excellent sound by composer Douglas Henderson. An amalgam of cars whizzing by on a highway, the cumbersome clanking of a delivery truck, and the idle banter and busyness of a noonday street provide a compelling "soundscape" for Nelson's equally idiosyncratic choreography. The stage is continually busy with movement interspersed with sudden, intermittent pauses in which a dancer stops on a dime. Small, inconsequential movements morph into powerful jumps. For instance, a repeated shoulder isolation begins a chain reaction through the rest of the body which eventually results into a dash across the floor or a barrel turn in mid air.

"SightUnseen" is also comprised of several partnering sequences, each requiring a great deal of trust as two people lean away from each other, attached only by their hands, or as one dancer balances stiff as a plank against another's shoulder. These moments are fresh and there always seems to be an element of surprise as the partnering unfolds. The group sections in "SightUnseen" are just as appealing to watch. Several times throughout the work, a handful of dancers, each involved in his or her own particular movement phrase, cluster in one corner of the stage. Suddenly, two break out moving in synch across the floor and then leap into a fantastic jump, spinning mid-air. Another pair juts out in a different direction. The result is a layering of movements, each distinct, but also complimentary.

"Wythoff's Array" stems from the same theme as "SightUnseen" -- that of random interactions. A circle of light and one lone woman standing outside its circumference opens the work. Slowly placed, strong movements set the tone. The dancing is clean and crisp here, each extension and role of the hip articulated. The stage begins to fill with others who perform the same deliberate focused movement, whether it be walking or a leg extension. Soon the piece gives way to overlapping sequences similar to those in "SightUnseen"; a trio develops into a quartet and then a quintet and so on.

Created for 18 dancers, the piece has been scaled back to fit a smaller group of 12. Yet, I wonder if Nelson's choreography might be better displayed through an even smaller amount of dancers. This is particularly true of the partnering sequences in "Wythoff's Array." A tour de force of lifting, spinning, pushing and pulling seem the hallmark of Nelson's partnering work. It is complex and intricate. Thus, one slip of the hand and a couple loses the pace. At one point, seven or eight couples are on stage performing the same partnering sequence. Unfortunately, the result is a mishmash of bodies. The stage is cluttered and the dancers are terribly out of synch. Perhaps the choreography could come through more clearly with less bodies on stage. In short, some deft editing could be used here. On the contrary, a starkly beautiful, almost surreal, moment in this piece occurred when the lights dimmed to reveal dancers in silhouette. Each glided or scurried gracefully across the floor. It was a distinct, clear moment -- one that could have lasted a bit longer.

Nelson himself is a compact and dynamically intense performer who wisely uses a diverse -- in both body type and movement style -- group of dancers for his works. Dancers included Adrian Clark, Samantha Chan, Karen Engleman, Hristoula Harakas, Luis Lara, Hamilton Monteiro, Rebecca Pearl, Gretchen Pallo, Emily Proctor, Anna Schmidt, Rebecca Serrell, Sia Sourelou, Francis A. Stansky, and Osmany Telez.

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