World Salad

World Dance Alliance Global Dance Event
Dance Theater Workshop - Bessie Schönberg Theater

Thursday July 15, 2010 - Concert C

Review by Elizabeth Zimmer (© 2010)

Photo Credit: Sue Peacock's "any given moment" performed by dancers from Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Photo © Jon Green (2010)

Like just about everything else in contemporary culture, dance has become commoditized: you can buy it, you can sell it, and you can use it to build your brand.

Aspiring American dancers who used to flock eagerly to their favorite choreographers, taking class for years and participating in groundbreaking experiments for little or no compensation, are now, like everyone else, in it for the money and the glory. They show up for auditions with little knowledge of a choreographer’s work, inquiring primarily about the terms of the contract, or they set up shop right out of school, forming companies before they’ve ever performed in one.
The primary exception to this development occurs on college campuses, where student dancers still perform for free (or merely for credit) in dances by their teachers, friends and visiting artists. They also still demonstrate the loyalty and enthusiasm formerly manifest in the professional world, and sometimes continue working in these relationships after graduating and moving on.

The choreographers, once graduated, are often paid by the institutions that employ them. Such artists were in the majority at the concerts presented by the World Dance Alliance in New York in mid-July. Their pieces seemed to fall into two categories, sponsored either by the institutions where the participants work or study, or by the governments of the countries in which they work. Sometimes a piece would partake of both sources of support.
The result, seen at Dance Theater Workshop July 15, 16 and 18, was that works from abroad, primarily from the Asia-Pacific region, tended to have large casts and sophisticated production values, while dances originating here were smaller and simpler and usually emerged straight out of college environments.

Thursday evening’s event, Concert C, included three dances ascribed to American choreographers, and one made by an American at a Taiwanese academy working toward her MFA. Also on the bill were a pair of very young dance makers from Bangladesh, two post-graduate dancer-choreographers from New Zealand, and a large group work from Australia. All these artists are either very recent graduates, or still “in school” either as students or professors. Several pieces arrived in New York fresh from a Summer Dance Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, workplace of the WDA Global Dance Event director Jin-Win Yu.
Opening the program was Thread, a recent solo by Elizabeth Gillaspy for Laura Barbee, who had been her student at Texas Christian University. Barbee, a tall, regal young woman in black trunks and a tan camisole, folded and unfolded her long limbs in ovals of light. (Claude Heintz did an extraordinary job of lighting dozens of dances in a very short period of time on an unfamiliar stage.) Though barefoot, she seemed to be operating on a ballet base, very extended and controlled. Gillaspy sent her on diagonal paths through the space, from a base at the center; finally, to music by Balmorhea, she turned and walked upstage into the darkness. I enjoyed watching this performer move but could not discern the choreographer’s larger purpose.

One of most startling pieces I saw at the WDA Global Dance Event (and I saw all but one of the concerts) was Me Myself n I, an unfortunate title for an ambitious new work by the Rhythm Dance Company which, if the videos screened in the theater lobby are to be believed, was even more elaborate in its original incarnation. Bangladeshi dancer-choreographers Mahraj Haque Tushar and Tahmina Anwar Anika (he’s 21, she’s 17) performed a duet that switched abruptly from a pantomimed domestic/office situation to bursts of competent Kathak dancing. The pair began lying on the floor beside an hourglass; then we heard an alarm clock go off and the two began to squabble. Tushar sat at a table stage left, and began to work an imaginary keyboard. Was it music he was making, or code, or text? Suddenly the table was gone and the pair was dancing Kathak, but there was a constant undercurrent of unease; the third element of the piece, beyond the mime and the traditional Kathak, was a feminist statement, with the young woman expressing her exasperation at the role in which she was cast. Toward the end of the piece Anika, dancing up a storm, seemed to grow entangled in a cord (part of an iPod?) or a piece of string; I couldn’t tell whether this was intentional or accidental, but in any case it was very distracting. These are very talented people, and I’d love to see how their work develops as it matures, but I’d suggest that they both watch their diets, as they’re headed for knee trouble dancing so hard with such ample bodies.

Winter Haiku, choreographed by Utah-based Amanda Sowerby for her Moving Company, began with a compelling tableau, featuring a woman in a long white dress and very long fingernails seated atop a ladder. To a score by Philip Glass and John Cage, which had an undercurrent of wind, nine other dancers swirled around, forming and reforming in groups; the women wore corsets over big skirts, lay prone, and sat on the floor in a Graham fourth position. The piece seemed primarily a study in mood; I kept waiting for the “tall” person to descend and do something, but she never did and was apparently just part of the scene design. A lot was promised here, but very little actually materialized.

Casey Avaunt’s two-year-old It’s Not Too Late…”, performed by members of Chuo-Tai Sun’s 8213 Physical Dance Theater, seemed to be a spoof of television game and dance shows. One of the few attempts at humor in the Global Dance Event, it had the audience in stitches throughout, as Avaunt (an American) and Yu-Jen Chen (a Taiwanese) competed with each other in corridors of light. Bells rang and lights flashed, and finally a buzzer sounded as Sun, in a suit and dark glasses, emerged from the back of the stage and handed each some big bills. The entire sequence repeated, but this time the “judge,” stripped to his skivvies, sprinkled the dancers with coins. After a third round the “judge” rolled them as if they were drunks in a gutter, actually reclaiming his cash. He then kissed the crucifix around his neck and strode off, as the crowd cheered. The production values here were high and the dancers competent; they struck a strong chord with their peer group.

After intermission we saw Jeannine Potter’s solo New Morning. Potter, who now lives and teaches in Chicago, lay prone on the floor in a blue dress, rolled over, and crawled on her belly, extending her limbs and striking barefoot poses. She seemed to be struggling with herself. She walked off into a corner. Again, I wanted a stronger sense of the choreographer’s intention.
Sarah Gavina Campus and Cat Ruka, fresh out of Masters programs at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, offered the cinematic Vault, an enigmatic work in which Campus stood in the dark in a kiddie pool, wearing a bikini and a deep suntan, as well as tattoos. Accompanied by a loud drone (music by Josh Rutter), Ruka, wearing sunglasses, a pigtailed blond wig and a blue nightgown, moved slowly toward us from upstage center. Campus, in the pool, kept changing her position, like a posing body-builder or a sun-worshiper; the whole piece evoked a kind of westernized Butoh. When she stepped out of the pool we discovered she was wearing sneakers. The piece seemed to be some sort of slow, inscrutable ritual, interesting to contemplate but very hard to parse.

The concert concluded with any given moment, choreographed by Australian Sue Peacock in collaboration with 10 dancers from the West Australia Academy of Performing Arts. Here, too, strong governmental support was evident in the size of the group and Stephen Warren’s sophisticated projected text, which unfurled and then furled up again; my primary critique of this work is that it went on about twice as long as the material justified, repeating itself without much development. A study in the philosophy of time, it mobilized men in vests over t-shirts and women in shorts or skirts, creating tableaus and slow processions across the huge stage, with the dancers sometimes moving sideways and sometimes standing still. They rest ed against and counterbalanced one another, sometimes rolled around, as the collage score pounded in the background . People took turns speaking text into a microphone. I had the sense that the work was trying to be experimental, but it succeeded mainly in appearing tentative and a bit too cute, posing questions like “how many breaths does it take to hyperventilate?” The music, by turns tuneful and full of pops and dribbles, formed background for encounters between the dancers: a woman butted against a guy with her head, knocked him down, picked him up. They rocked, rose, and fell as the text began to repeat itself, and the piece basically faded away, a tour de force that might have been really powerful at half its present length.