By Walter Rutledge
NewSteps: a choreographers series presented their 25th year of offering new and emerging dancemakers an opportunity to develop dances through the creative process. The bi-annual choreographic showcase offers five to six artists a small stipend, rehearsal space, mentoring and constructive feedback. The process culminates with three performances open to the public. Each choreographer is given a maximum of ten minutes of presentation time. This season NewSteps featured emerging choreographers Mat Elder, Annie Heath, Erin Byrce Holmes, Tanner Ryan, and Spencer Weidie.
Mat Elder opened the program with LONGO: traction, a trio set to the music by Lesley Flanigan. From the beginning the trio, performed by Zarchary Denison, Morgan Hurst and Meredith Santoro, displayed an aggressive exchange of power and authority between Hurst and Santoro. While Denison continuously changed the visual focal point of the work by moving the direction of the chairs.
Denison became part spectator, part referee and an eventual participant. Juxtaposed to the female performers his solo displayed a strong presence, while remaining unscathed by the Hurst and Santoro’s bellicose behavior. The worked ended with a truce of sorts as the dancers amenably dissolving into the darkness.
Annie Heath’s solo, Unidentified Sheep Scouting, opened facing upstage with Heath bend over in a prone position. She then moved upstage turned, returned downstage only to repeat the phrase again. With her head down and moving with straight arms and legs the action produced a crustacean- like look.
Heath replaced her head as the “artist’s window to the soul” with her derriere. (This gave a new meaning to the phrase “cracking a smile”.) Maintaining a connection with the floor became a paramount element to her movement, which was performed in silence. Her very earthbound, yet intense rendering benefitted from her repetitive and nuanced approach.
Spatial design became the most visible element of Spencer Weidie’s trio the ways and means. Starting upstage right, the trio was arranged in a triangle formation, with the energy focus out toward the wing. The work circumscribes the parameters of the space with linear movement and patterns. Throughout the work the angularity of the choreography began to melt or soften. Weidie abruptly ended the work downstage left in a triangle, this time the energy was focus toward the audience. Bring us back to a variation from the opening/initial movement phrase.
Dis.ILL.U.sionby Erin Bryce Holmes mirrored the lyrics from Nina Simone (Be My Husband) and Bessie Smith (Sugar In My Bowl). The abstract narrative combined different movement styles to create a smooth and cohesive story. Holmes opened with Bessie Smith; rich with double- entendre she cut through subtle shading to tell a tale of desire.
Her interpretation of the Nina Simone required Holmes to strip down to nude colored bra and panties. She punctuated the section second with rhythmic claps and syncopated foot stomps. This changed her demeanor; becoming more defiant and assertive.
Tanner Ryan presented Smock;choreographed in two section the work immediately established the movement style and dynamic. The robotic opening movement played well visually set against the pulsating musical score. Soon expansive arms that wrapped the body in an encompassing manner, then augmented with spiraling turns. Relying heavily on the strong baseline the second section music had an almost “club” effect. Ryan’s performance is best described as exuberant; buoying the work to a fun and upbeat conclusion with the dancers encircling a single down spot of light.
NewSteps continues to provide a nurturing environment for the choreographic creative process. The format speaks volumes on H.T. Chen’s own dance aesthetic. The process is designed to foster personal exploration, greater proficiency and artistic honesty. We look forward to the next NewSteps showcase and the wonderous gifts of discovery through the art of making dances. For more information about NewSteps and additional events offered by the Chen Dance Center visit chendancecenter.org.