By Walter Rutledge
NewSteps, a choreographic showcase, began the 23-year of bi-annual presentations on December 7 at the Chen Dance Center 70 Mulberry Street. The series presented 6 works by 8 choreographers Jenny Boissiere, Esmé Boyce, Keith Comley, Chelsea Hecht, Alexandra Lockhart, Emily McDaniel, Emily McDaniel, Nikki Theroux and Shannon Yu. NewSteps offers new and emerging choreographers rehearsal space, mentoring, and a stipend to create works less than 10 minutes in length. NewSteps promotes “new steps”; in other words, all of these original works are crafted for the three performance choreographic showcase.
Keith Comley’s Checked Baggage opened the evening. The solo choreographed and performed by Comley; who was clad in a long coat and carrying a suitcase; which was an integral part of the work. The suitcase was more than a prop; it played many roles including a shield, chair and a metaphysical symbol. At times the suitcase appeared heavy as if Comley was laden down with the weight of his “emotional baggage”. Throughout the work his theatre background kept this abstract narrative focused and the audience engaged.
Towards?, an ode to the New York City transit system, by Shannon Yu effectively manipulated nuanced movement to create both expansiveness and intimate imagery. Set to subway sounds Yu’s simple repetitive running in a large circle evoked the city’s rat race. This was juxtaposed by small hand movements resembled the hip-hop style Finger Tut.
Yu gender-neutral appearance successfully gave the work an “everyman” (in this case everyperson) quality. Unfortunately Yu did not adhere to the fifth commandment of Doris Humphrey, “All dances are too long”. The protracted length made reoccurring themes appeared repetitive, as opposed to developed; thus diminishing the dancer maker’s message.
Alexandra Lockhart, Chelsea Hecht and Emily McDaniel produced By Force Of Habit, a successful example of the collaborative process. The trio began upstage with bodies cascading off the back wall and spilling onto the floor. The dancers remained connected creating a ribbon of movement effect that at times conjured images of hieroglyphic styled motifs against the back wall.
With the back wall as a fourth element the trio struck a good balance between stillness and movement. Once freed from the wall the trio had strong spatial relationships, complemented by solid choreographic and structural design. By Force Of Habit has a synergy that produced a satisfying and honest use of group weight and momentum.
The next two solo works benefited greatly from light designer Joe Doran expertise. fell by Nikki Theroux opened in a shaft of stage left light, bathing Theroux in a warm frontal glow that accented her stylized walking with shadowing and shading reminiscent of Flemish renaissance art. It also added an unintended sculptural element, without slipping into cliché posturing.
The music collage, especially the Melkite chant, gave the work a mystic, exotic quality. The slow sustained movement punctuated with deep lunges in second and fourth positions, combined with her statuesque presence, reinforced the work’s earthy power. Theroux understands the power of brevity, this complete yet succinct offering made a resounding statement.
For Esme’ Boyce’s Portrait in Charcoal Doran’s lighting became an essential design element. Boyce began the work in a fetal position slowly rolling in a large circular pattern. With each shift Doran’s lighting produced the contours resembling sketched figures. When Boyce returned to the center she spiraled to a standing position creating a feeling of metamorphosis. The work possessed a visually satisfying and genuinely transformational quality.
The evening closed with the queen has fallen by Jenny Boissiere. The all female quintet had a fresh energy and good choreographic form as it shifted from full ensemble to smaller configurations. One of the strongest sections was the trio, which integrated unconventional lifts and good design creating abstract relationships and symbolism. Boissiere’s duet expressed a sense of bonding and kinship without literal or saccharine overtones. The work climaxed with an energetic coda that had a “classic” form and build, ending with a unique twist of syncopated buzz hands.
NewSteps continues to influence future dance makers. The time test format harkens back to the days of Doris Humphrey and Bessie Schönberg, when dancers, dance makers and mentors critique, construct and collaborated. This is an important part of the legacy of H.T. Chen and the Chen Dance Center; to give back in order to help move the art of making dances forward. For information about spring/summer NewStep 2018 email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 349-0126.