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New York City can boast of great choreographers such as George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, and many others who have built epic works while finding this city their muse. There is a limitless supply of inspiration to be found by simply walking down the streets. But where will the next generation of choreographers come from? In a time where funding is sparse for the arts and it sometimes seems like anyone can slap something on the stage and call it art, how and where can emerging artists be discovered? Saturday night, I had the privilege of witnessing a true breeding ground for artists. At the ninety-seat theatre of The Wild Project, Alexis Convento (Alexis Convento & Artists) and Brandon Cournay produced the Current Sessions: Volume II, Issue I“My mission for the series is to provide current professional (legit) dancers who want to choreograph, the opportunity [to do so] with a venue and exposure,” said Cournay, who currently dances for Keigwin + Company. As varied as one would expect in both focus and energy, all of the choreographers rose to the occasion.

Current Sessions, Photo: Corey Melton

The majority of the first half of the show worked creatively with mixed media projections as the backdrop. In ab initio, Allison Jones’ dancers performed against a backdrop of paper. Computerized patterns that blinked and changed sporadically were projected onto both the paper background and dancers. It was amazing to watch the dancers blend into the background and then suddenly pop out, evoking the feeling of looking into a “Magic Eye” 3-D book. The live music, mixed onstage by Sam Silver, worked well with the visual art and dance components. Using multimedia with choreography toes a fine line because it is easy for the movement to be upstaged, but Ms. Jones did it well in ab initio. I look forward to seeing her choreography evolve. Exhibit Once, by Jacqueline Stewart, began with one dancer’s bare back to the audience while the other was completely shrouded. Danced by the choreographer and Grace Whitworth, the beautifully long-limbed dancers moved both with and against each other in an exquisite pas de deux that combined powerful weight sharing and gorgeous use of levels. They moved across the stage in a way that draws up images of a sensual contemporary ballroom number. The removing and then reapplying of costumes and use of shadow enhanced the grandeur of this work.

The most effective use of media projections was in Nathan Madden’s The Portraits of the Me I never knew I was. This piece was, as we say in the South, a “two-fer.” The dancers had been filmed in an industrial loft space doing choreography that related to the movement that the dancers were doing on stage. The film echoed the live action, and then the tables would turn for the live action to echo the film; the duet becomes a pas de quatre. Madden’s choreography, which combined both pedestrian and balletic elements, was enhanced by recordings of speech in which a young man [Madden] expressed phrases such as, “Not sure I like what I see when I look at who I am today…” The piece told a clear story of ever changing discovery. Most notable was a male duo with mind-blowing technique and artistry.

I’ve been intrigued by dance on film since I first saw Amelia by La La La Human Steps. The capacity of directing the eye of the audience as to where to look is an interesting choice of vision, and in Orifice, Lara Wilson tackled this. While I found some of the cinematography and editing to be random and abrasive, by the end of the work, I could appreciate Wilson’s intentions. Dance on film can sometimes lose the emotional connection live dance has with an audience and, while the cinematography was beautiful, I experienced that here. The error could lie within the placement of this piece in the program comprised mostly of live performances. This film should be entered into film festivals, such as Movies by Movers,  to find the correct audience.

The second half of the evening gave the audience a much needed break from the beautiful cerebral angst of the first half. Jonathan Royse Windham’s Two duets, some awkward moments, a long silence and a slow dance, spoke for itself. However, the title leaves out one major part—the piece was uproariously funny. The dancers entered the stage running, bumping into walls, and sometimes colliding with one another. Every so often, the audio would stop and a recorded selection of a group sighing “Awwwwww!” would cue the exit of each of the dancers one at a time until the dancers left would perform their duets. Each dancer maintained their individual characters, ranging from an overly happy girl to a grumpy, lethargic man, as well as many types in between. It reminded the audience that dancers are indeed actors.

In Enzo Celli’s Irritante, a tooth-pick chomping man (Celli) entered the stage and engaged the audience by making clear eye contact and simply demonstrating the hilarity of the power of minimalism. Suddenly, he began a series of sliding rond de jambs that turned into a duet with Elisabetta Minutoli. The intertwining movement told a beautiful story of the quest between people to be noticed by one another. The arc of the piece was excellently executed and, in the end, they returned to humor. Comedy cannot exist without darkness, and Celli’s work demonstrated this superbly.

The last two pieces of the evening were the most traditional. Not relying on overly dramatic lighting or projections, the choreographers allowed their movement to speak for itself. Sarah Metin’s Discontinue: Part II was highly athletic, using strong floor work and volatile partnering to deliver movements reminiscent of Brazilian Capoeira. The dancers exited and entered the stage so smoothly at times they could sneak by unnoticed. Yin Yue’s One Side of the Story closed the evening. There was a clear struggle against conformity as dancers worked to establish their individuality against the group. The dancers incredibly toned bodies lent well to the strong execution of Yue’s immensely technical design. The piece could have easily been broken up into two separate works. Regardless, it was never boring.

Writing about the work of new choreographers presents an exciting and nerve-wracking challenge. One really never knows what to expect, and the last thing I would want to do is trash what is both a personal and intimate process. Fortunately, the evening was enjoyable and showed a lot of promise amongst the city’s burgeoning choreographers. There was true heart and clear intention, and should these choreographers stay the course, I suspect we will be hearing more from them in the future.

Written by Matthew Donnell

Matthew Donnell

A graduate of North Carolina School of the arts, Matthew Donnell is a freelance dancer, actor, clown, instructor, and film maker residing in NYC. After a decade with the Kansas City Ballet, he turned his focus toward musical theater and teaching. He strives to bring the humor of his life into his art in order to promote artistic health for himself and those around him.