Upping the ante on dance coverage and conversation
Photo: Tim Richards
Improvisation for all tastes?
By Becca Weber
Often in the field of dance, we use terminology that lacks clear definition. Are you a “modern,” “postmodern,” “contemporary,” or “experimental” artist? What does each even mean? Can you be several at once? In different communities, the same dance may have different labels—what we call “modern” or “postmodern” in the States might be “contemporary” in Europe; while to us, “contemporary” could imply the sort of commercialized “routine” found on So You Think You Can Dance. I, for one, never quite know how to answer when someone asks me what kind of dance I “do.” And I’m sure I’m not alone.
Another such term is “improvisation,” and Falls Bridge, billed as a “new movement, improvisation, and performance festival,” gave audiences a sampling of the myriad interpretations of that word. Audiences were served solid structures that flirted with choreography, free and open-ended interpretations, and works with little design other than spontaneity, while performers ranged from children to adults, novice to mature, and included movers as well as musicians.
Friday evening opened casually; dancers warmed up in the stage space while a full house trickled into Mascher Co-op. The show began with a performance by Falls Bridge creators Nicole Bindler and Curt Haworth, soundtracked by Bhob Rainey. Bindler and Haworth took turns, long limbs leading in linear shapes which dissolved, collapsed, and rebounded into structured forms again. A shared glance linked them across the distance, the first of a few rare moments of connection in their plain-faced duet. The tenuous connection persisted as they picked up bits and pieces--little jumps, energy states--from one another’s movement. These moments of synchronicity evolved into a satisfying end with the two swirling toward another, a pair of gyroscopes meeting.
The seriousness of this opener crashed against the hilarity of Group Motion. Director Manfred Fischbeck dutifully elaborated the structure: each of four dancers would create a tableau based on an audience-suggested theme drawn from a hat. One by one the dancers set up their colleagues. Watching the dance unfold was enjoyable. We had some idea where they were going, but not even the dancers themselves knew how they’d get there. And they did not make it easy on each other. The audiences’ giggles became full-out guffaws as Hedy Wyland wryly interrupted her cohorts (who were clearly setting up for the third tableau) as she dropped David Konyk with a simple, “I wasn’t ready.” The dancers’ comedy was physical, too: from writhing in awkward positions, to over-dramatic lyricism, to a mock-lapdance performed by Wyland,and then Konyk,just inches from Fischbeck on his keyboard bench. Eventually, reluctantly, the fun and games concluded with an out-of-breath Lindsey Browning begging the others to assume their fourth position, “Please! ...Now! I’m tired of this.”
The somber/humorous dichotomy was mirrored when Harmonica Semis’ solo met Christina Gesualdi and Annie Wilson’s duet-ish trio with accompanist and sometime-participant Julius Masri. In Semis’ commanding solo, every moment was new. Her furling, unfurling, and tracing cylinders of space was interrupted only by the intensity of her gaze in moments of stillness, as when she studied her shadow on a bare wall or peered into the barrel of a stage light. Semis’ accompanist Andy Hayleck’s electronic pops and synthetic bellowing provided the soundscape, filling her stillnesses as we observed her body’s thinking reflected in her pensive face. Alternately, Wilson and Gesualdi’s slack-jawed mouthing of words, jaunty leaps, and witty banter had at least half the audience in stitches. The finale featured guest artists Rebecca Bryant and Margaret Peck, with locals Marion Ramierez, Megan Mazarick, and Mason Rosenthal in a nuanced offering that straddled both lines. Turn-taking solos became difficult weight-bearing partnering, while accidental falling led into overjoyed jumping.
Saturday night provided similar contrasts, and featured pieces that were more ideological but perhaps less rich in movement investigation. The evening felt more spontaneous, less mature, more raw, less structured. The menu included political works--Rebecca Bryant’s feminist “Suite Female: Part IX” implied the constraints of female domesticity, while Jaamil Olawale Kosoko’s “Stallion Study #2: Revenge of the New Negro” confronted uncomfortable issues of race.
The standout performance of the evening was “Resident Artists: dancing/familiar,” a collaboration between artist/parents/partners Margaret Paek and Loren Dempster with Marion Ramirez and JungWoong Kim and the children in their care: Eleanor (Nona) Dempster-Paek, Minkyong Ji, and Ari Kim-Ramirez. While the piece was clearly structured, all bets are off when a 2- and 3-year old are involved.
Natural performers, Nona and Ari loved the spotlight, and if laughter is any measure, the audience loved them back. Ari exclaimed, “I have done it!” after scaling the small mountain of Ramirez’ outstretched back. Later, Nona insisted on removing her shirt, whipping Kim in the face with it, and then chasing him, demanding “I NEEEEED it!” as he slid away, her shirt in hand. Their improvisation was gloriously natural, reminding me of how much professional “grown-up” improv could benefit from this level of unabashedness.
The juiciest moments came when the adults echoed the kids (Ramirez climbing and balancing atop a squatted Kim), or when their efforts were interrupted by children wandering astray. The piece provided an honest look at the joys of parenthood—the inspiration of seeing the world anew through childrens’ eyes—as well as the travails of juggling the hectic double life of the parent-performer.
This juggling act is much like the craft of improvisation: a little messy, a little rough around the edges. It can mean a simple or complex structure, or none at all. Sometimes magically surprising, others frustratingly blasé, yet others painstakingly predictable. Improvisation in performance challenges dancers to walk a fine line--between making new discoveries in real-time and providing something that is engaging and valid enough to warrant audiences’ time and money. There are many pathways there, and none are guaranteed. Falls Bridge offers performers a chance to try out any and all of those pathways and audiences a chance to witness that trial-and-error...or success.
Falls Bridge, presented by Mascher Space Co-op, Nicole Bindler, Curt Hayworth, Philly PARD, and University of the Arts. Mascher Space Co-op, January 19, 2013; PARD, January 20, 2013.
By Becca Weber January 28, 2013
Upping the ante on dance coverage and conversation
Philly PARD’s R&D for Dance
As I walked into Mount Vernon Dance Space, I banged the door of the church loudly behind me. I caught the eye of the ticket seller and cringed apologetically, but she responded with a warm smile and a dismissive wave. The open yet intimate space was a surprising contrast to the hulking exterior of the stone church. A nice-sized audience of about 30 or 40 was already seated and chatting, waiting for this evening’s Mixed Grille.
I recognized faces of presenters and performers I had seen recently at Hybridge Arts’ Last Monday, a similar evening of varied short works. I appreciated the sense of close community, and I wondered what makes this format so appealing to artists, and what differentiates the various showcase evenings around the city.
Philly Performance Arts Research & Development (PARD) offers not only Mixed Grille, but classes and workshops, describing itself as “a laboratory for the investigation of dance and movement-based art forms.” Director Curt Haworth explains that PARD began just recently, in 2010, when he was asked to take over Mount Vernon Dance Space. As a relative newcomer to Philadelphia, he was interested in getting more involved with the Philadelphia dance community, and he saw potential to use the space to build a program similar to one he worked with in New York: Movement Research.
Haworth’s idea was to focus on R&D by forming a centrally located, artist-run, self-sustaining organization (PARD receives no outside funding) that would host technique, improvisation, and composition classes as well as occasional performances. While Haworth continues to reevaluate some structural things like scheduling to accommodate community demand, the R&D element seems to be a solid core.
Teacher Shannon Murphy describes PARD as “a place to teach tools I myself want to investigate.” She attributes this to not having to conform to a particular aesthetic, and says it allows her students to be more open to experimentation, rather than “getting all the combinations ‘right.’”
She feels there is a large community of dancers -- “free-lance post modern movers” -- whose aesthetics are very different from those of the other studios currently offering classes. Haworth confirms this by noting that he selects teachers who are from parts of the community that do not already have a core studio.
Mixed Grille incorporates these ideas as well. Saturday night’s program clearly designated when completed pieces had premiered, and highlighted works-in-progress by featuring them at the end of the evening.
However, I’m not sure that I would have noticed this without the conversations I had with Haworth and Murphy.
If PARD truly wants to incorporate performance into its investigative structure, it would benefit from communication with its audience. A post-show discussion, or even a clear explanation of the evening’s intent, could connect artists and audiences in a deeper way.
By Amelia Longo November 17, 2011
for more info go to: http://thinkingdance.net
by Becca Weber
As I enter the Mount Vernon Dance Space, I see dancer John Luna on the floor, holding a camera whose black and white images project onto the ceiling. Chairs are placed around the perimeter of the room. Relieved at not having to choose, I take a seat on the side where two chairs are marked for me.
My gaze keeps shifting upwards to that projection. I am watching the room, but also not watching the room. Many people enter without my seeing them until later. This is how Onliestreads to me: both as part of a group, a community, and yet all alone.
The space is set with light trees and a cluster of objects: rods, balls, a pot. Red screens obstruct my view of other audience members. I comment to my partner that it’s a lovely space, but one that is difficult to transform. Choreographer Curt Haworth directs PARD, the performance and class series at Mt. Vernon; I can tell he knows the space intimately as he uses it to its fullest from the moment he and the other dancers emerge around us. Gabrielle Giordano sits on the floor near me; instrumentalist Julius Masri appears across the room. Bethany Formica curls up under a pew while Khadija Ahmaddiya stretches atop. I cannot take in everyone at once—instead, they appear, like constellations that join the white noise of the night sky, as soon as my gaze drifts.
Masri’s soundscore throughout the piece is interactive—the dancers grab tubes, drumsticks, chains, and play. Masri scratches a key on the floor, its tones still reverberating as Haworth perches atop him, their arms mimicking writing on the ground. Metal balls whiz through the space, their pitch growing and dissolving as they approach and pass my seat.
The sound is kinetic—both how it is made, and how it plays out in the dancers’ bodies. Haworth and Grieger dance a swirling duet, tremors of the score traveling through their bodies as they spiral in and out of the floor. Later, the ensemble restructures the space and I struggle to hear snippets of text from behind the screens the dancers push past me: “I was walking,” “Just beyond my reach.” I wonder if others can make out more.
Masri’s silhouette appears, lit from below, as he is ensconced in the enclave the dancers built of screens. We see snippets of his arms through shadows on the ceiling, as scratching, clunky sounds and knocking percussion fill the space. Only Masri knows fully what lies within the screens’ enclosure.
Moments of connection happen: Masri plays a speedy drum solo as Grieger attempts to stop him, but he is steadfast. Eventually, she lifts him over one shoulder, hoists the drum set on the other, and walks off. Formica and Grieger dance a duet around an awkward handshake. It winds down with the two lying supine, Formica atop Grieger. They adjust, over and over, with Formica always on top. Between small solos and duets, the entire cast appears in the space. But these connections are always short-lived, never definitive. When the cast is all together, they are still apart—no contact, no acknowledgement of each other—in a world together, but worlds apart. I get the sense of planets, orbiting the same sun but never meeting.
As Luna’s projection of white wintry birch trees is divided, half on the ceiling, half on the ceiling fans hanging below it, I hear Haworth: “I was walking alone in the woods one day....” Earlier, Formica’s resonant monologue, delivered from her place on a ledge above the audience, spoke of a solitary ritual, watching credit cards sink and drift away in the ocean. These two moments emphasized the performer’s maturity, which was inevitably lacking in some of the younger dancers, reminding me again that we are all on our own journeys, at different places along the path.
In our ThINKingDANCE workshop on Sunday, Haworth’s partner, Nicole Bindler, brought in a review of the show from her perspective. We were at the same performance; our experiences were similar. Words landed in me that brought back the evening. And yet it was different. What was backlit for her was plainly visible for me. What I struggled to see (lifting my hand to my eyes at one point, blocking the rays to glimpse the action), was openly perceptible for her. This experience was only mine, could only be mine. It is a realization both desolate and precious: there is value in the only, lonely though it may be.
Onliest, Curt Haworth Movement and Performance, Mount Vernon Dance Space, November 22-24.
By Becca Weber
November 27, 2013
Grace and improvisation
at Falls Bridge dance festival
By Merilyn Jackson, For The Inquirer
Posted: Tue, Jan. 17, 2012, 3:01 AM
Lela Aisha Jones dancing "Street Grace."
She evoked many emotions, dancing to a little music box that played Schubert.
Last week a clever little dance festival called Falls Bridge - founded in 2010 by Curt Haworth, who heads PARD (Performance Arts, Research and Development), and Nicole Bindler - provided an investigatory laboratory for dance and movement arts that ended with two concerts.
On Saturday night, Ishmael Houston Jones, Yvonne Meier, Meg Foley, Zornitsa Stoyanova, Manfred Fischbeck, Sharon Mansur, and Daniel Burkholder performed at Mascher Space Co-op. I made it to the Sunday night show at Mt. Vernon Dance Space; after seeing the caliber of Sunday night's lineup, I was sorry I had missed the first performance.
Merian Soto has partnered with Marion Ramirez since 2003; they opened this contact-improv-based show with Circulations. In total silence, Ramirez, a beautiful mover, paced the space with increasing speed, spiraling her circles smaller until she reached center. She and Soto embarked on an exploration of the space, avoiding collision with each other as their breathing became labored, finally ending in a heap together.
Street Grace was Lela Aisha Jones' poetic solo, beginning as a paean to a poem she thought her grandmother wrote. The little music box playing Schubert that she danced to seemed to represent the poem. Often just standing in place, she languidly led us through an evocation of many emotions, from hunger for beauty to acceptance of self.
At last, I got to see much-discussed Michelle Stortz, who danced a witty improvisation called Open Wide with Leah Stein. At times, they played like small animals, mostly communicating with each other via guttural sounds or visual signals in a language we all somehow understood.
Another wonderfully playful improvisation - between Sarah Gladwin Camp, of Green Chair Dance Group, and Gregory Holt - started out with a kind of rock-paper-scissors stare-down. Holt ran around, wildly flapping his arms like a madman wanting to shout his love from the treetops, while Camp sat watching impassively. In a magnificent moment reminiscent of Xavier Leroy's nude Self-Unfinished, the fully-dressed Holt upended his legs over his upper back to touch the wall, head unseen, backside up, his arms and hands extended absurdly behind him, taking on a life of their own.
NOW! by Silvana Cardell was all about immediacy. She and her five dancers blocked and challenged, held and climbed over one another, as artist Jennifer Baker drew life-size impressions of them on six large easels. It was fascinating to see her stretch all over with her charcoal even as she watched and studied whatever phrases the dancers presented. Baker captured the whip-snap swing and sway of the choreography better than any words.
The Dance Journal
Writings and musings on dance in the region brought to you by PhiladelphiaDANCE.org
Philly PARD’s Mixed Grille offers four delectable works from a most formidable cast of Philadelphia dancers
Philly PARD offered up a most tasty Mixed Grille last evening with the continuation of their popular dance series and the presentation of four delectable new works from a most formidable cast of Philadelphia dancers.
The evening started with the audience sitting in an intimate space with the arrival of trays of votive candles and even a birthday cake to the opening of Flicker, a solo performed by Bethany Formica with choreography from co-creators Silvana Cardell and Bethany Formica. As laughter filled the hall and the celebration of a birthday ensues, we are drawn in to the dichotomy of the celebration juxtaposed with an internal struggle. The votives are strewn across the floor as Bethany brilliantly dances between them. As she pauses and even balances just above the candles, one can feel the heat upon the skin and even perhaps the burn. The candles flicker and as the only light source, cast shadows, beautifully accenting the flawless movements executed by Bethany as she fully embodies her character as no one else can. With each passing between celebration and anguish, a series of candles are snuffed out. At times, Bethany is literally throwing herself at walls in an endless frenzy. From a sudden stillness, her body begins to writhers, at first playful, sexy and even taunting, then consumed with that emotional pain that transforms through her every limb. Finally, with a burst of light from flash paper touched to a candle that wafts to the floor, the audience is left in the still of darkness.
With a brief re-arranging of the audience to a proscenium setting, we are introduced to Blood Orange, choreographed by Guillermo Ortega Tanus and performed by Guillermo and Eun Jung Choi. This pas de deux opens with Guillermo serenading a Barbie-like and most elusive manikin Eun Jung, which offers both a comical and more serious exploration of love and attraction. Throughout the work, there is a play on stereotypes of both men and women utilizing dance, singing, monologues and even dialogs between the dancers. At one point, the dancers take on a more primal and animalistic interaction as they literally sniff each other on stage in a courtship ritual. Guillermo describes it best, “While easily falling into our sexual instinct, we desire to be a part of the life of someone significant. Blood Orange finds the tension between our instinctual impulses and intellectual selections.” Blood Orange was a masterful exploration of the absurdity of gender roles and stereotypes in our pursuit of that often elusive relationship.
The third presentation of the evening was Pieces of Movement Progressing, choreographed and performed by Leanne Grieger and Zach Svoboda. The physicality and abilities of these dancers is undeniable, as they each travel their own inner space in this exploration of movement. But the piece lacked direction and at times dragged, as we were exposed to far too many snippets of unrelated movement and an emotional rollercoaster that became lost. While there were moments of brilliance in the dialogues presented, the experience was too fleeting and generally lost in the lack of cohesion and direction.
The final presentation of the evening was ROBE, choreographed and performed by Megan Mazarick with dancer, Danielle Kinne. Megan brought to the stage a spectacle of visual imagery as hobbit-like, robed creatures entered carrying glowing lanterns. Once the lanterns were placed, these robed creatures took up meditative postures within the light, breaking open seed pods and blowing their contents throughout the space. As they danced, the fluffy white and silky seedlings swirled in the air moving with them in a dreamlike state. The piece ended all too abruptly, before we could completely settle in to the dream, as our earth dwellers once again took up their lanterns and lumbered in to the night.