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Flash Review 1, 6-26: The Last Dance
Soundance Closes its Doors With A Reminder of its Necessity

By Darrah Carr
Copyright 2000 Darrah Carr

Last night's performance at Soundance Studio, presented by Vanessa Paige Dance with a variety of guest choreographers, was an extremely bittersweet occasion. At the start of the show, we were informed that this was actually the last performance ever to be held in the studio. After 22 years (11 of which were under the direction of Soundance), the studio at 385 Broadway is closing its doors, because the lease has been taken over by a dot.com company that can afford to pay a tenfold increase in rent. Paige, the executive director of Soundance Repertory Company, referred to the transition as "another casualty of the gentrification of Tribeca." Listening to her opening remarks, I was reminded of an article in the April issue of Dance Magazine entitled "Space: The Final Frontier: The new economy and skyrocketing rents force dancers to play the real estate game." Although the article said that dance centers in San Francisco are being the most severely hit by the advancement of the dot.coms, as I absorbed Paige's announcement, I began to fear for the safety of small, intimate studio spaces in New York City and wonder about the ways in which that impacts our dance community.

Nevertheless, bittersweet remains the operative word to describe the performance, because of the thoughtful manner in which Paige chose choreographers for the program. Namely, she invited choreographers whom she believed had been a vibrant and real presence in the studio. Thus, the evening became not only a tribute to Soundance studio and the important role it has played in providing classes and subsidized rehearsal/performance space to the dance community, but it was also a time to recognize and appreciate choreographers who continue to make and show work in such a difficult climate. The sweetness lay in the excellent working relationships and deep friendships that seemed apparent among the group, based largely, I assume, on the time they spent together at Soundance studio. I myself have taken advantage of Soundance's subsidized rehearsal space, guest artist workshops, and works in progress showings throughout the past several years, thus it was also a pleasure to see many familiar faces presenting work this evening.

Jody Sperling opened the program with her solo "Trapeze Disrobing Act." To the lilting music of Johannes Brahms, she wriggled, slid, and untangled herself from layer after layer of clothing. Starting with a bulky winter ski coat, she worked her way out of a tuxedo, ski pants tights, biker shorts, and a shiny, silver dress, all while swinging on, hanging from, and standing on a trapeze with quite amazing agility. It was wonderful to see bit by bit of her bare skin emerge, not because the piece was a sexualized strip act, but because it offered a sense of freedom from the confinement of clothing. The work had a sense of molting, or shedding, to find a new skin which was complimented by the soothing music and sense of suspension on the swinging trapeze. As I watched Sperling work her feet free of heavy boots and socks, I was reminded of something Ken Tosti once said about why people go to see modern dance -- namely, the audience wants to watch people being free. To me, Sperling's bare feet, a primary symbol of the modern dancer, as well her shedding of multiple layers read as a desire to be free and without restraint, again much in the spirit of modern dance. Perhaps I am reading too much into this, given my current state of mind -- that we must protect and defend modern dance in the face of losing leases! Nevertheless, those were my associations.

The next piece was a solo choreographed and performed by Chaya Gordon entitled "...the attempt to rise." Opening with sharp, articulate gestures, Gordon alternated these phrases with moments of beautiful suspension, such as a long arch backward, arm upraised, palm spread, until falling out of it into a graceful run. There seemed to be an emotional subtext that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Gordon would drop to the floor in a sort of struggle, and then approach the audience with a slightly defiant, yet questioning look. At the end, she backed away from us as gently as she'd been confrontational before.

Carrie Ahern choreographed "The Greeting," which was performed by Carolyn Hall and Catey Ott. Both expressive and theatrical performers, Hall and Ott made great use of facial expression to portray the changing emotions of conflict resolution. The opening stance -- legs in parallel second, holding hands -- conveyed the childhood sense of "me and my best friend against the world." As that unity dissolved, however, from initially playing patty-cake to whispering to each other, to poking at each other, it occurred to me that even for adults, the evolution and escalation of emotions during conflict often follows the same, simple path of children. A pointedly exaggerated balletic section proved both performers to be technically proficient, very clean dancers that made a nicely matched duet.

Jill Meadows choreographed and performed "I-D(-UH)" playing with the words "ID" and "identity" and their meanings for someone who has been raised in an adoptive family. She explained this not only in her program notes, but also by incorporating text at the beginning and end of the piece. Having been told so much information, I found myself wondering how the dance would have read on its own, without the narrative to explain it first. While I am not against incorporating text and movement, I felt that by the end of the piece, the point had been hammered home. The dance itself was lovely, however, conveying an emotional quality of loss and searching, with a longing facial expression. Meadows is an extremely fluid and graceful mover, qualities which she keeps fresh and alive through occasional punctuation. The following piece, "Grace" was choreographed and performed by Angela Jones. Jones is a magnetic and striking performer, with great theatrical presence. With only the (albeit powerful), lyrics of Jane Siberry and a simple costume of hospital scrubs, she was able to convey an entire world -- the intense, distraught, and painful world of a drug addict in Grace hospital. Rather than simply enact the lyrics, Jones physicalized an emotional character for us and made the sense of desperation real and palpable. (For more on Jones, see Flash Review 1, 6-5: Direct from the Heart.)

The next piece, choreographed by Jenny Rocha and performed by Nadia Faramarzpour, Christine Poland, Shevaun Smythe, and Rocha herself was a very tightly crafted and well rehearsed quartet, though it was named only "untitled work in progress." It was refreshing to see a group piece at this point in the program and I appreciated Rocha's manipulation of her material on the dancers -- alternating at times between unison, follow the leader, chain reaction, etc. The piece was done largely in silence, yet Rocha also made interesting use of stomping and audible gasps to create both a sense of rhythm and a physical sound score.

Next came another group piece, "Ash Wednesday," choreographed by Vanessa Paige in collaboration with the dancers -- Michelle Lee Adams, Chaya Gordon, Chris Higgins, Jill Meadows, and Elmer Moore Jr. The dance opened with the striking image of a cluster of people posed, almost family-portrait style, face front, barely moving, until the rather tall Moore just fell over, right on his side. This was repeated several times and the image came back later during the piece. The dance seemed to be built on relationships, but ever changing relationships, ones constantly in flux, as dancers passed between duets, solos, and trios, moving from one partner to the next. At times, the dancers were quite literally passed through the air with inventive partnering. One particularly beautiful image occurred when Moore and Higgins held Meadows on either side of her outstretched arms and supported her as she walked through the air.

The figures drifted on and off, like fragments of a dream. At one point, two dancers entered and sat upstage, with what appeared to be golf balls in their mouths and hands. They rolled them downstage and dropped them from their mouths, in a manner that, given the title of the piece, seemed to be confessions they were divulging. Later on, one of the same dancers returned with a scarf, tarot cards, and what appeared to be dice or coins. These images and instruments of reading fate were extremely thought provoking by their juxtaposition with images of faith, such as the title of the piece and the incorporation of a spiritual score by Gorecki.

The final piece of the evening was a special commission by Chris DC Ramos entitled "Norma D" that was performed by Vanessa Paige. Making clever use of video projection, the piece chronicled the mishaps of an aging diva/actress, Norma D and the crime of passion she committed. Paige displayed her great theatricality and dramatic flair by embodying the character at times in front of the screen, or eerily behind the screen, in shadowed silhouette. She made great use of irony with brilliant interjections of the text from the video.

By the end of the evening, I came to the following conclusion: Yes, an important lease has been lost, to make way for a dot.com. And more. Digital culture cannot replace live culture. For no matter how incredible and convenient e-commerce and digital technology are, nothing -- at least in my biased opinion -- nothing can replace the creativity, vitality, and physicality of live performance.

 

Darrah Carr is a New York City-based choreographer and writer who recently completed her MFA at New York University. Her company, Darrah Carr Dance, performs July 7 at Jacob's Pillow.

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