By Walter Rutledge
RudduR Dance presented a three-day New York season January 25th through January 27th at the Chelsea Factory. Founder and choreographer Christopher Rudd continues to develop choreography that both entertaining and enlightening. The well curated seventy-five-minute concert presented three works and offered a retrospective into choreographer Rudd’s work and artistic evolution.
A Night in the Life of Us (2017) was an abstract narrative that told a story of a love affair that eventually became irreconcilable. The duet performed by dancers Dean Bootsma and Christina Moya-Palacios created a mood that intimated intimacy, suggesting a couple who had been together over a period of time. Throughout the encounter the choreography consistently developed movement themes from earlier introduced material. The developed phases gave the work a thematic feeling and produced a coherent choreographic conversation.
This established a familiarity between the couple that translated to the audience and aided in the storytelling. His approach also subtly pulled back the layers of the relationship, which produced a rich nonliteral scenario. Bootsma and Moya-Palacios’ ofttimes tempered combativeness reinforced Rudd dramatic- not melodramatic storyline.
The work was followed by another duet Touché (2021). Normally presenting two duets back-to-back would be programming poison, but the diversity of two works made the programming successful. In contrast Touché depicted a budding gay relationship.
In A Night in the Life of Us the movement seemed to mold and mesh in a natural organic way. Touché had a very different feel as if created by another dancer maker. The appreciated diversity is an acquired and deliberately learned choreographic skill that is too often missing from many dancemakers’ lexicon.
Beyond the thematic similarities Rudd’s success was due to a varied movement vocabulary and intent. The two works shared the theme of requitted love, but that is where the similarities ended. In Touché Rudd relied heavily on plastique and sculptural movement.
From the start dancers Rayan Lecurieux-Durival and Ezra Swift performed individual movements that were asymmetric and angular. When the dancers combined the shapes, they created symmetric images that reminisced Leonardo DaVinci’s Vitruvian Man. These movement references became a metaphor- when we are together it is harmonious.
The intent between the duets also created contrast. In A Night in the Life of Us there was a deliberate almost aggressive attack with thoroughly acceptable interactions. While in Touché the dancers did not express the same degree of familiarity.
The energy shifted to a more visceral/humanistic style of storytelling. This time the story centered around forbidden and therefore secret love due to the social and moral taboo of the tryst. There was a newness, an innocence, an almost like adolescent sense of discovery, and theatrically it was filled with moments of apprehension, exploration, anticipation and finally submission.
Both works were concise and focused which enabled the choreographer to quickly develop intent. This kept the audience engaged and awake. (Spoiler alert!) the endings of these works spoke volumes about the different stages in relationships.
The evening ended on a much more cerebral note with the world premiere of Witness: Part III- Tomorrow. Here Rudd created an alterative reality changing not only our environment but also our center of gravity. This dark dystopian world set in the not so distance future (might be a premonition of living under a dictator…hint… hint).
The ensemble work began with Ezra Swift in an embryonic fetal like position encased in the metal framework of a small circular upside-down trampoline. As he labored to stand, he was encumbered by harnesses attaching him to the tramline. Slowly he up righted the trampoline and the platform became his prison.
Swift’s powerful interpretation made the solo feel more like a soliloquy in dance. He was helpless, but not hopeless, downtrodden but still defiant. It was the right mix to build empathy for the human condition.
Suddenly the stage filled with six additional performers including Leon Cobb, Rayan Lecurieux-Durival, Siobhan Harvey, Johnathan McDonald, Alex Maureen Newkirk, and Sierra Sanders. The straps allowed the dancers to lean forward further than humanly possible, it was like the Michael Jackson illusion in Smooth Criminal. Good abstract imagery can take each observer to the same junction but on a different path. With just a simple swaying motion the imagery it conjured for me ranged from the horrors of the middle passage to the present-day indignities at the Angola prison farm in Louisiana. What was so rewarding Rudd was able to achieve this effective and stunning imagery without literal connotations.
Throughout this well-conceived work Rudd used abstract imagery to introduce thematic and coherent conversations. After all, art is communication, and it relays its message through more just time and space. In Witness: Part III- Tomorrow oppression, civil disobedience, and the pursuit of collective and individual freedom are among the issues Rudd brings to the forefront with both urgency and elegance.
One element that was truly rewarding to experience was the inventive use of the props. There was nothing haphazard or left to chance. To produce such confident execution and seamless transitions the manipulation of the props required a great deal of preparation and rehearsal.
Christopher Rudd is a choreographer with something to say, and he is expressing his message loud and clear. If you missed these performances at Chelsea Factory Rudd’s duet Mating Season will be performed February 6th through February 10 at the Joyce theater during the Philadanco New York City season. Rudd will be one of four choreographers (Tommie-Waheed Evans, Nijawwon Matthews, and Ray Mercer) whose works will also be showcased.