Breaking into the New York choreographic scene is a daunting task, and combining an overly saturated market with high-cost venue rentals makes it difficult for artists to present their work.
On May 2, The Group Theatre Too presented the seventh installment of Choreographer’s Canvas.
Headed by Justin Boccitto, and performed at Manhattan Movement and Arts Center, Canvas provided a venue for emerging and established choreographers to showcase their work. This year’s program had 19 works presenting a wide array of styles, including contemporary, tap, jazz, belly dancing, and aerial circus work.
At the top of the show, Alex Maxwell quietly played his guitar as the audience entered. The pre-show entertainment turned into A Friendly Jam, as Justin Boccitto, Jeff Brelvi, and Nicky Romaniello joined in a delightful jam session combining musical instruments and tap dancing. Unlike much rhythm tap — that sometimes seems to forget audience — the humor and lightness of this piece was a perfect start to the show.
Til Enda, a powerhouse of well-composed contemporary dance by Jerica Niehoff, was a highlight of the night. The choreographer performed in the piece alongside Valerie Salgado, Cara Goodwin, and Caitlin McGee. The dancers’ athleticism and artistry made Niehoff’s choreography entertaining and poignant.
Ball Change was a creative combination of tap and percussion choreographed by Ryan Casey, in which he and partner Lauren Waslick utilized basketballs to create rhythmic contrast. Reminiscent of performances such as the Off-Broadway hit Stomp, Casey had the opportunity to bring campiness into this piece. Fortunately, he dodged that bullet making Ball Change a clear audience favorite.
Aerial work seems to be everywhere lately, and Stephanie Sine’s Enjualado — performed by Sine and Bobby Hedglin-Taylor — utilized a traditional mechanism called the Spanish Web. Spanish Web is a long thick cord or rope, often seen in circuses, to which one holds onto or is attached in the air while another person below spins them at dizzying speeds.
In this case, Sine’s choreography brought some of the most creative uses of Spanish Web that I have seen in a long time. The sensuality and technicality of Sine’s movement proved exciting combined with Taylor’s partnering from below. Thankfully, Sine didn’t just rely on the “spin,” and succeeded in avoiding the usual clichés of the genre, thereby creating a truly enjoyable piece.
Souls of the Ship choreographed by KC Castellano was danced to instrumental music from the movie Titanic. While the choreography was well executed, it was difficult to discern if the piece was meant to be comedy or tragedy, and the audience’s confusion was reflected in intermittent laughter. Perhaps the use of another composer could command a more somber effect, but if tweaked as a comedy, it could soar.
Some Of These Days, by Ryan Francois for Syncopated City was the most clearly executed use of true ensemble work in the show. The 20s stylings were precise and sharp and showcased everyone tastefully.
Choreographing production numbers is perhaps one of the most difficult in all of the art, and Choreographers Canvas provides the perfect setting to take risks, learn, and grow. Unfortunately, the pieces that didn’t quite hit their mark were the larger ensemble numbers. While I applaud the choreographers for stepping up to the challenge, the works fell short of looking like anything more than a recital or competition team number.
Bookending the show with another hilarious tap number, Justin Boccitto and Nicky Romaniello returned to amaze with Duelling Taps. Bringing simplicity and truth of storytelling, as well as perfection of sound, they brought the audience to a roar.
While the ticket price was a bit steep for a showcase, the audience seemed entertained and happy with the outcome.
This goes back to the aforementioned issue of expensive venue rental in NYC. If Canvas can find a way to lower the ticket price in the future, then they will be able to bring exposure for these talented artists to a wider audience.