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The Donohue Blog, 9-9-09: Day 1
10 for DanceNOW [NYC] at 15

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2009 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- The DanceNOW [NYC] fall festival is exactly the kind of blood rush to the head one needs to clear away a summer's fog. Kicking into its 15th anniversary season this week at Dance Theater Workshop, the festival (in which my company is also performing) opened last night with a shining example of what it does best by giving us little bits of gold mined from a field of plenty.

As usual, the line-up was a well-balanced sampling of "short-take" dances from long-time vets and newbies alike. And so, with ten works on the program, an overnight deadline for posting, and a first-grader heading to her first day of school early in the morn', I too can only offer my immediate quick-hits. Here's the short and sweet:

Myrna Packer and Art Bridgman performed an excerpt from "On/off/front/back" with video of their dancing bodies, designed by Peter Bobrow, projected onto their dancing bodies. Packer and Bridgman are experts at this theme and perform the cute duet with comfortable skill that tempers the sense of gimmickry and threatening cutesy-ness. Sydney Skybetter's excerpt of his solo, "The Personal," danced by Kristen Arnold, is a formal and elegant meditation on reach and rejection. Arnold returns from an outstretched back attitude stance to fervent swipes across her legs and body, as if shunning her own skin. Johannes Wieland's "Reality explodes in my face," also seen in an excerpt, seems at first to offer a fresh bit of irreverent relief with Beth Griffith and Jon Guymon dressed in track pants and mirrored sunglasses, lip-synching and miming their efforts at a firing range. Jenna Riegel joins them, clad in a pink dress, but despite her best, and noticeably impressive efforts, even she cannot save this dance from wandering aimlessly.

A simple idea in the hands of experienced practitioners and a clever craftsman takes us out of pointless silliness by strolling through some theater of the absurd on our way to the continued excellence that is PARADIGM. Gus Solomons jr (also a contributor to this publication) choreographs a study in sound and society for Karen Brown, Carmen de Lavallade, and Valda Setterfield with his "A Thin Frost." The women, seated on folding chairs and facing in towards one another, shift from flinching beneath each other's gazes to hooting, howling, oohing and ahhing, throughout riotous bouts of personal-sound-effect soundtracked spasms of movement and physical commentary referencing one another. It is a gem of a dance performed by a few crown jewels.

When I first saw the company name SNIC, I thought it to be a reference to SNCC, the acronym for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the largest Civil Rights era organization of its kind, pronounced SNiC. I found out afterwards that SNIC comprises the choreographer Shani Collins's initials. But her "Swing Us Sky Rainbow" is relentlessly politically-minded and aggressively evocative. Unlike SNCC, her fight against racial disparities need not trample women along the way. Collins keeps company with dancers Ryan Ross, Khaleah London, Michelai Sancho, Laurie Taylor, Erika Hand, Phakiso Collins, and Karina Ikezoe in a strong and studied way. A keen compositional sense and the silken spit of Ursula Rucker's words make for a solid festival debut for for SNIC.

David Parker's "Bang" from 1991 is almost too good to write about. By this I mean that I took no notes because I was too busy slamming along happily with his Bang Group's Nic Petry and the ever-youthful Jeff Kazin. Parker is the old-school DanceNOW [NYC] guy, having shown work since the organization's inception in 1995, and this dance is the fest at its best. Short, sweet, brilliantly-timed, perfectly-executed, it is witty, sexy, exhausting, difficult and highly technical despite occurring almost entirely while the two men lie on the floor beside (or on top of) one another beating out rhythms and entangling limbs.

Ellis Wood is the incarnation of a goddess in her solo "Venus Through The Ages" (excerpt). Wood is a terrifying combination of raw abandon and laser-beam precision, unwieldy and cracked but still brilliantly perfect and on point. As she dances, she appears to be engulfed by humanity but exploding time and space as if they were toys in her infinite playground. I found myself weeping at the beauty of it all. Mana Kawamura's "specimen" remained darkly compelling on a repeat viewing. (Click here for my first take.) Kawamura's movement vocabulary is satisfyingly exact and her exquisite performance is matched by her dancers, David Botana, Miho Murata, Juri Onuki and Keelin Ryan. Gerald Casel's excerpted work in progress, "Fluster," was a formal trio for himself, Nicholas Stafaccia and Sam Wentz full of spinning leg sweeps, slicing arms, and luscious space-chomping movement. Lindsey and Jason Dietz Marchant collaborated with Darrin M. Wright and Elena Demyanenko for their excerpted work-in-progress, "Jamais Vu" (Never seen before). Lindsey and Wright begin with a ligh-hearted and constantly shifting duet. When they lay at Jason's feet, he covers them in piles of the silver tinsel strands he has been holding. The strands spread across the floor and as Lindsey picks them up and tosses them around her, they float through the air in gentle sways. Stephen Vitiello's ethereal score imbues the work with a soothing eeriness and I find myself drawn to inhabit this world, with dancers who move in smooth, playful and sensual awareness and soft glitter all around.

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