By Walter Rutledge
The Chen Dance Center began the 34th consecutive newsteps; the semi-annual emerging choreographers’ series, Thursday, April 19 at the Chen Dance Center, 70 Mulberry Street in New York’s Chinatown. This season the three-performance spring showcase, which runs through Saturday, April 21, selected works from “non- dancers”. Professional artists, actors, musicians, singers, photographers, who applied their expertise of their respective art forms to the choreographic process. The five choreographers selected through an open audition for the April concerts are Kate Douglas, Bryndon Cook, Lauren Oliver, Alec Funiciello, and Sophia Zukoski. Each choreographer is given rehearsal space, an honorarium, mentoring from a member of the selection panel, and multiple (three) performances to give the works time to “find its own voice”.
In Sleep Is The Cousin Of Death choreographer Bryndon Cook opened the program lying on the floor bathed in red light. Cook had the courage to let the movement develop organically from stillness; his breathing allowed his back to subtly ebb and fall, finally rolling prostate staring at the ceiling. Before working through a series of deliberate mechanical movements that eventually brought him to standing. Set to an original score by Starchild and the Romantics Cook explored his own restlessness due to insomnia with imagery that extended beyond dance. His repetitive tossing an object over his head then catching it with the other hand created a visual buoyancy with an invisible inanimate object.
Lauren Oliver’s duet feminina, set to the music of Celia Cruz, created a sensual feminine work aided by a film of female shoulders rhythmically swaying to the salsa music. Two women, Katie Oliver (Lauren’s sister) and Diana Pettersen expressed a tender and supportive relationship through both movement and gesture. One particularly effective moment had Pettersen on the back dancing on the air while Oliver circled her; occasionally Oliver would lean in and Pettersen use her legs to push her back to standing. The work evolved into a playful salsa lesson.
Nature/Nurture is Kate Douglas’ witty duet with a Schlumbergera truncate (Thanksgiving Cactus). “Truncate” was seated downstage with a microphone (on a stand) aimed directly at the cactus, so we wouldn’t miss a word. The clever dance/theatre work used comedy to express a multiple layered relationship wit multiple implied meanings.
How To Fall In Love With The Earth Again combined spoken word, live projections, original recorded and live music, and dance to create a collaborative statement piece. Choreographers Alec Funciello (speaker) and Dana Greenfield (projectionist), musician Anastasia Beliakova and dancer Evelyn Chen created an environment where the projections moved by hands by Greenfield interacted with Chen and her shadow. Visually Chen was caressed, menaced and at times enveloped by the shapes, while Funciello seated on the floor downstage provided commentary without upstaging the dancer. The work had a wonderful collective balance, a fitting homage to acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, a collector of sound all over the world.
Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. The disease effects not only the addict and everyone they interact with; especially the people they love. In Devotion choreographer Sophia Zukoski takes use on a dark journey into the world of addiction.
The dance opens with Zukoski as the mother and Lei- Lei Bavoli, her devoted daughter, seated in the center of the stage. Despite Bavoli’s best efforts she is unable to curb her mother’s addiction. In one of the evening’s most memorable moments Bavoli pulls all the black curtain back; exposing bare walls and Brittany Henry- the addiction. The action removed the protective cocoon like ambience and placed the work in a stark new reality. Zukoski’s final movement statement defined the mother’s devotion.
All of the works were abstract dance narratives; which was probably due to four of the five choreographers have theatre/acting backgrounds. Each in their own way explored the power of non-verbal communication through some form of storyline. The success of the works was partially due to the small cast size (solo, duets, trios), this keep the focus on design elements and thematic structure.
You have one more opportunity to see newsteps. For more information about tickets, auditions dates for the upcoming fall newsteps and the other events sponsors by the Chen Dance Center visit chendancecenter.org.
In Photo: 1) Bryndon Cook 2) Sophia Zukoski, Lei- Lei Bavoli and Brittany Henry