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Casebolt and Smith. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

Casebolt and Smith. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

 

For five weekends during February and March, the 92nd Street Y Harkness Dance Center played host to five dance companies as part of Stripped/Dressed. Curated by Doug Varone, the series is a sexier version of the old lecture demonstration model of educating audiences and demystifying the process of dance making. The Stripped portion, alluding to no costumes or lights, came first and most of the choreographers used this as a time to set up the dance the audience was about to see. After a short intermission it was followed by the Dressed portion, where costumes and lights were in full use. I made it to three of the five performances and was delighted by how Varone’s simple format was used in such diverse ways by Casebolt and Smith, Kyle Abraham, and David Dorfman.

 

Casebolt and Smith. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y.

Casebolt and Smith. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y.

 

Liz Casebolt and Joel Smith seemed completely at ease talking about their work before performing their work, as the first section of O(H) is in fact a dialogue between the two choreographic partners about their making of different kinds of duets and their need for clarity. In a sort of meta discussion on the start of their show, they used their Stripped time to first perform this section in rehearsal clothes so that would be clear on their intentions to be clear. The audience was then polled for a famous work of modern dance that could be identified easily. Paul Taylor’s Esplanade was suggested and the duo worked through their process of turning a full company work into a quick partnered phrase with text. When the couple came back dressed, the audience was part of an inside joke and it was fun to anticipate when they would plug in the new Esplanade phrase.

 

Kyle Abraham. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

Kyle Abraham. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

 

Kyle Abraham and his company Abraham.In.Motion also chose to engage the audience, but in a different sort of way. After showing a video of Abraham improving a phrase in the studio by himself and witnessing how that same phrase gets ingested into the bodies of his dancers, the audience was asked to get on its feet and learn a phrase of gestures from Radio Show. It reminded me of a Works and Process evening in which Damien Woetzel taught the audience the opening port de bras of Balanchine’s Serenade and the final port de bras of Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering as an exercise in establishing a deeper emotional connection to dance–a virtuosic and often esoteric art form that can intimidate and confuse the audience–through participation. This exercise worked much in the same way. When the same phrase was performed in various iterations during the performance of Radio Show, the moves did not seem abstract or decorative, but truly resonated in both the body and mind. The kaleidoscopic nature with which those moves were deployed highlighted the talents of the individual dancers and added meaning upon every turn.  It was a simple and evocative way to illuminate process and bring awareness to the very often unknown and unseen layers that make up a dance.

 

From left are Beatrice Capote,  Maleek Washington and Rena Butler  with Chalvar Monteiro and Jeramy Neal in "The Radio Show". Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

From left are Beatrice Capote, Maleek Washington and Rena Butler with Chalvar Monteiro and Jeramy Neal in “The Radio Show”. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

 

David Dorfman used his Stripped time to peel back the layers on Impending Joy, a work that had not been performed since its premiere a decade ago. He spoke at length, much longer than the other choreographers, about the larger contradictory themes of the dance and his attraction to provocative phrases such as “fierce intimacy.” The company performed a complete Stripped version of the work and Dorfman took time after the run to break down sections of distanced partnering, allow a dancer, Raja Feather Kelly, to walk the audience through the inner monologue, or score, that accompanied his particularly poignant solo, and point out the commitment and trust it takes for the dancers to be able to portray such aggression on stage with each other. The post-performance discussion allowed for an unpacking of Dorfman’s vocabulary which took violence on a ride both literal and abstract. The harsh edges of Impending Joy stood out in contrast to the sublime Dressed portion of the show, which featured an entirely different dance, Lightbulb Theory. It gave the audience a sense of the wide range Dorfman and his company are capable of and how the basic themes of life and death exist simultaneously for the choreographer, and ultimately, as Dorfman believes, for every artist.

 

Raja Feather Kelly, Karl Rogers, Kendra Portier, Christina Robson in Impending Joy. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

Raja Feather Kelly, Karl Rogers, Kendra Portier, Christina Robson in Impending Joy. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the costumed performances from all three companies, the venue was much more conducive to the intimate and informal process of stripping down a dance. Many choreographers fear that talking about their work will be boring or pretentious or incomprehensible. Sometimes it is. But these four choreographers succeeded in making their dances more meaningful and understandable without destroying the natural and necessary ambiguity that allows the audience to interpret and personalize the experience of watching articulate bodies move through space and time.

 

David Dorfman in Lightbulb Theory. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

David Dorfman in Lightbulb Theory. Photo by Julie Lemberger for 92Y

 

 

Written by Candice Thompson

After more than a decade in Brooklyn, Candice Thompson is now an Atlanta-based artist and writer. Prior to dancing with the Milwaukee Ballet Company and ad hoc Ballet, she trained with Kee Juan Han at the School of Ballet Arizona and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She founded LOLAstretch Dancewear in 2000 and has designed costumes for a variety of theater and dance companies across the country. She recently received a masters degree in Literary Nonfiction from Columbia University’s Creative Writing Program and more of her dance writing can be found in the pages of Dance Magazine, Pointe, and Dance Teacher.