By Joel Benjamin
For 19 years, 10 of them at the unlikely venue of Joe’s Pub, at the Public Theater, DanceNow has presented adventurous programs of modern dance. The producers of this year’s DanceNow challenged nearly 40 choreographers to create works for the Pub’s tiny, triangular stage. The rules were simple: create a work of 5 minutes or less that makes a concise artistic statement. I caught 20 of these works over two programs.
Several things struck me after viewing so much choreography. First, how amazingly long 5 minutes can seem when not filled with intriguing creativity. By the same token, some works were surprisingly complex, despite their brevity. Then, there were certain recurring themes and trends: Gestures, particularly used without literal context, were popular; spoken word was used in many of the works, almost to the exclusion of movement. (Ironically, these works were the ones the audience loved the most.) Blank expressions proliferated as did dances about unspecified sadness and angst. Even those with a façade of optimism had dark undercurrents. Intellectuality often dominated movement invention, making for spare, cool, clever, but unmoving works.
Jane Comfort, Mark Dendy and the team of Chelsea Murphy & Magda San Millan structured their short pieces around words. In Ms. Comfort’s “Excuse Me, But…” Sean Donovan and Javier Perez appeared to be ordering food accompanied by odd gestures. The dialogue was witty, but absurd and the movements became more playful and involving. Mr. Dendy, dressed in fatigues and a gas mask simply stirred himself to a recording of an interview with Donald Rumsfeld. Mlles Murphy & San Millan spoke frankly of sexism, mocking sexual roles while strutting, lunging and oozing about the stage. They were remarkably committed.
On the glitzier end of the spectrum were the Wondertwins’ “Broadway to Hip Hop” in which they performed extraordinary old-fashioned hip hop with some tap dance thrown in, wearing shiny jackets and dapper, gleaming attitudes. “James,” choreographed and danced by a very colorful raja feather kelly (all lower case), was an outgoing trip into the inner workings of a transsexual. “One More Chance” by the Bang Group was a reasonably proficient bit of tap dance performed by Jeffrey Kazin and Parker in which the theme was older mentor vs. younger acolyte. Not Fred Astaire nor Savion Glover, but elegantly entertaining all the same.
Vastly entertaining, but extremely thin was “Thousands Place,” choreographed by Jordan Isadore who danced the non-stop, a-movement-to-every-beat treat to music with Eloise DeLuca and TJ Spaur, all dressed as if bounding onto a tennis court. Totally opposite emotionally was “Shelter,” by Rubén Graciani, a moody duet in which Hannah LaBonte and Matt Pardo warily danced about each other, slowly stripping off clothing as they clutched and grappled sculpturally.
The most technically impressive work was “Merge” which featured choreography, video and dancing by Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer who interacted with extraordinary images of themselves projected onto a screen. They slipped behind the screen, reappearing to coincide with breathtaking images of themselves floating, on rooftops, dancing with each other, etc. There wasn’t too much movement invention, but “Merge” was more than clever.
On September 13th the winners of an ad hoc audience poll will share a program as they vie for money and the chance at a full length show at the Pub.
Photos: Yi-Chun Wu.
DanceNow at Joe’s Pub
Sept. 3, 4, 5, 6 & 13, 2014
425 Lafayette St. (between East 4th St. & Astor Place)
New York, NY
Tickets: 212-967-7555 or www.joespub.com
More Information: www.dancenownyc.org