Closing Out the Summer With Some Cool Downtown Dance

I can’t believe it’s already Labor Day weekend. Whoa. Where did the summer go??

Here are some pictures I took of the Downtown Dance Festival last Sunday in Battery Park. When it ended a brief wave of sadness swept over me. This festival kind of marks the end of summer. I feel like I was just returning from the Caribbean deeply annoyed that it was still in the 50s here…

Anyway, the first company on was Figures in Flight, which is a Modern dance school for kids.

One very cool thing about this school / company, as Artistic Director Susan Slotnick spoke about, is that they also teach Modern dance to men in prison. One of Ms. Slotnick’s former students who was just released from Woodburne Correctional Facility was there. The crowd went nuts with applause for him. Made the longtime former public defender in me very happy. I know there are many prison literacy programs, but haven’t heard of a dance program until now.

The kids of Figures in Flight. Slotnick said one thing she does is try to teach kids nonviolence through dance, teaching them choreography addressing or acting / dancing out issues they may be experiencing, like bullying at school. You could see some of that in the choreography. I met someone in an acting class I took years ago who taught drama therapy to mental patients at Bellevue Hospital here in NY. He basically helped patients learn to act out their problems, to use creativity to solve them rather than internalizing or using violence toward themselves and others. I can see Slotnick doing the same thing with dance and I love it.

Next on was Battleworks Dance Company, which presented Robert Battle’s energetic, mad fun Ella, set to Ella Fitzgerald and danced by Marlena Wolfe.

And Wolfe ends her frenzied fit of a solo by collapsing backwards, completely out of breath! This is the first time I’ve seen Battleworks at this festival. So cool to see what you normally only view in a large, distancing theater just feet before you.

Axis Danz’s Mermaids.

Dancewave’s Kids Company, whom I’d never heard of, did an excellent dance — a combination of African, Modern, and Samba. It was mesmerizing. One of my favorites of the day. And man can those dancers MOVE.

isadoraNOW presented Isadora Duncan’s lovely Southern Roses.

This was an interesting company, called Undertoe Dance Project. They combined Tap with Modern, having two dancers representing each style dancing onstage at the same time. Don’t think I’ve seen that done before. It worked.

On last, ending the festival, was Battery Dance Company, headed by Jonathan Hollander, the festival’s organizer. They performed his lyrical, beatific Where There’s Smoke.

Very pretty, very spiritual.

At the end, the Battery Dance Company dancers invited audience members onstage to learn some of their just-performed choreography.

exhibiting, as Hollander announced, that dance is for everyone…

Also, here are some more pictures I took of Hostile Takeover by Richard Move’s MoveOpolis! which was performed as part of the Sitelines series of downtown site-specific works, which I briefly mentioned earlier.

They held the performance at five different Financial District-area locations. The one I saw was at the Jeff Koons sculpture in the small park at 7 World Trade Center.

The dancer, dressed as you can see in a red lacey negligee, red ballet-like diaphanous chiffon skirt, long lacey gloves, patent leather red stilettos, and a clear plastic Butoh mask and platinum blonde wig, moved in extreme slow Butoh-style motion making various poses — some sexy, some more balletic (arms held wreath-like over head, toe pointed forward in tendu). She was very unbalanced on the heels — at several points went to do a low arabesque and couldn’t lift her back leg very high or it seemed like she’d clearly fall — and I couldn’t tell if it was because she was moving so slowly, if she wasn’t used to dancing in heels (so, not a Latin dancer πŸ™‚ ), or if she was faking it, only pretending nearly to fall so as to question the beauty and/or stability of a certain kind of hyper-femininity.

After a series of poses in front of the Koons statue — and beside a small plastic red teddy bear propped up before a red umbrella and holding a little bright blue Jeff Koons ‘sculpturette’ — the dancer turned toward the large sculpture. It’s funny but at this point I noticed how sexual that sculpture is, with the little orifice in the middle surrounded by the three others, and then the stamen-like arm shooting up to the side. It’s like an industrial Georgia O’Keefe figure.

She approached the little teddy bear, seemed to delight over his little toy, seemed to ask him if she could hold his “baby-doll.”

She did a little dance with the small Koons dog/doll…

… then took him to his larger cousin, and eventually placed him in its middle orifice.

The whole thing took nearly an hour, the movement was so slow. It was weirdly poetic, and rather entrancing, not only catching but holding the attention of many passersby.Γ‚ I wish I could have made it to some of the other locations because I liked the performance but thought it would have been more of a “Hostile Takeover” had this hyper-sexy, hyper-‘feminine’, hyper-artful, hyper-slow-moving dancer been in the midst of all the crazed besuited Wall Street dudes. This little park was not only already arty but kind of removed from the hustle and bustle. Could have better illustrated the contrast between art and commerce, calm and fast-paced, perhaps masculine and feminine (the program describes the performance as a “glamorous collision of sexual desire with masculinity and femininity and real and imagined worlds”; I’d perhaps question the essentialist nature of words like ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’).

Anyway, there’s one more Sitelines performance, in early/mid September. And then that’s it. Summer dance season in NY is officially over.

Happy Labor Day everyone!


  1. Jonathan Hollander

    I’m so thrilled to find your detailed chronicle of the Downtown Dance Festival! Great to revisit the events of last week through your eyes!

  2. Thank you for commenting, Mr. Hollander! I really enjoyed all the parts of the festival that I was able to attend, and am eagerly awaiting next year’s!

  3. great photos, Tonya, and I agree with your criticism of the locations that Move chose for his installations – after all this talk of subverting hyper masculine settings, the performances themselves were so politely contained.

    By the way, have been meaning to comment for ages on your critique of male motivation in “Giselle” – couldn’t agree more with it. The ballet loses so much if it’s not clear. Corella is the only ABT dancer who has really convinced me about the role.

    It seems in your writing that you’ve been moving steadily from being a fan to a critic – do you think?

  4. Hi Claudia — thank you; what a great compliment, especially from you! Well, I think when I originally started blogging about concert dance, I was mainly trying to show people (my main readers were the ballroom crowd since I was originally writing about my own ballroom dancing) — how enjoyable watching ballet could be, how it could help with your own dancing, and what fun it was to have favorite dancers and be part of the overall “scene”. Now, I guess my voice is evolving and I’m trying to be more serious and critical — meaning not necessarily criticizing something but thinking more critically about the dance and how it works or doesn’t. Thank you for noticing that!

    I’m glad you and others agree about Albrecht. I thought people were really going to clobber me for that! I’m sorry I haven’t been able to see Corella in the role.

  5. Hi Tonya! I enjoy reading your blog. I just wanted to add that there is also the free Evening Stars dance series in Battery Park, September 5Γ’β‚¬β€œ7, 2008 at 7:30pm. Lar Lubovitch Dance Company will be performing the first night, including a revival of “Concerto Six Twenty-Two” (1986). Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance will perform on Saturday night; and the final night will be a flamenco group from Spain – Los Vivanos – in their U.S. debut.

  6. When does a fan become a critic? Is the difference in the level of gushiness, analysis, critical thought, humility, or jaded cynicism?

  7. Thanks so much for the info, Jean!

    Jolene, that’s a good question and I’m not sure what the answer is. I’ll have to think about it. Right after I wrote that comment, I thought, well, sometimes I still feel like being all gushy about Marcelo, etc. πŸ™‚ So, does that make me “fannish” and not “criticish” (and what kind of word is “criticish” anyway?!) I guess, for me personally, I have different moods when I write and it kind of depends on what mood I’m in how gushy I am. But it does kind of seem that the gushier, the more fannish, right? But can you both gushy and critical / analytical? Can you gush over a dancer and then be critical of the dance? I think so, but I guess if you want to be taken seriously, you should be more restrained in commendations right?… So, I guess it is a matter of voice. Good question, Jolene!

  8. hehe – it’s fun to think about. It’s true that a lot of critics are fans, but maybe not necessarily the other way around. And do all critics HAVE to be fans?

    I went back to read your Giselle take, and I agree as well. The interpretations I’ve seen, it’s differed per dancer. One version (Joan Boada at SFB) performs as a carefree guy not thinking about the future, not knowing the gravity of his actions until later. But Marcelo, I thought he played him more like a jerk (from what I remember, this was a while ago) – refusing to acknowledge Giselle after his betrothed appears. I think I even told him that, and he agreed that he sort of plays him as a jerk. But you’re right, it doesn’t always make sense since Albrecht’s role jumps right into the middle of the story.

  9. I think the fan/critic issue is mostly one of balance, no? Fans tend to be led by their emotions: they love Ballerina X, and so everything she does is fabulous, and if it isn’t, well, it’s someone else’s fault … To be sure, critics have to have an emotional attachment as well (if you don’t care, what’s the point, and why should your readers?). But effective criticism can’t be ruled by a love/hate relationship to the subject matter, or the ideas (and ideas, for me, form the essential core of criticism, not judgment) get trampled.

    I THINK, anyway … it’s a big question to tackle, and maybe one whose answer has to change day to day

  10. And something else that gets trampled is healthy disagreement – one of the things that drives me crazy in the arts is the idea that one’s assessment of a certain artist somehow serves as a litmus test. Ahh, taste …

  11. Yes, I agree about the emotional distance distinction, Claudia — perfectly said! There are certain people, certain bloggers, who you know you will never see a critical word from, particularly with respect to one company. And I guess if you read them, you read them for other reasons anyway, not to get critical perspective. Though that kind of writing can get a bit boring in my opinion — both to write and to read!

    And I completely agree about the healthy disagreement. It’s crazy sometimes how people attack each other. I just love being personally attacked for my views (you don’t have enough life experience to appreciate that, you’re just jealous, etc.).

  12. Emotional distance totally makes sense, and it’s almost ironic because critics are often the biggest fans of dance as well, in which case you’d think would make distance more difficult. I do agree though in the biggest difference between fan and critic; it’s more of an issue of fixation, and the ability to take a step back.

    Claudia, if you’re still reading this:

    “one of the things that drives me crazy in the arts is the idea that oneÒ€ℒs assessment of a certain artist somehow serves as a litmus test. ”

    Do you mean that a person can analyze an artist, both pro and con, without seeing an artist any other way than the way that is in their head?

    Ditto on the ability to disagree. The critics really get the brunt of it – bloggers to a certain degree I suppose, I know Tonya and I both have stories. πŸ™‚ People are VICIOUS to the SF Chronicle dance critic – online, there’s a feature where you can comment, and it gets personal, really really fast. It’s an occupational hazard.

  13. I was wondering about that too, Claudia! I know that it sometimes seems like all critics feel the same about a certain artist — dancer or choreographer. It can sometimes seem like everyone’s jumping on the bandwagon. Then, it seems like if you don’t see the brilliance of that person — say, Vishneva, Wheeldon, Ratmansky — you’re marked a philistine. Or maybe not that bad, but you certainly feel stupid πŸ™‚ And then ditto for if you like an artist everyone has deemed an idiot…

  14. Hey Ladies (J&T) – my comment referred to a habit that I find particularly tedious in the art world: certain artists are declared geniuses (whatever the hell that means), or, something approaching, and then become sacred cows …. if you don’t like the artist’s work, you’re somehow banned from the Halls of Good and Righteous Taste. How tedious …. as if taste were like a math equation, and there can be only one right answer. And as if criticism exists to reinforce the status q., or simply to give thumbs up/down … I could care less whether I agree with Anthony Lane or not. I just want to know what he has to say, and delight in how he says it. And I love reading critics who violently disagree with me. A line of heads nodding in agreement puts me to sleep.

    And it’s sweet of you to thank me for commenting, but you’ve been at this a lot longer than I have – I’m coming pretty late to the blogging party, so thanks for having me.

  15. Denby writes that good criticism “leads you to discoveries of your own. The fun in reading dance criticism is the discovery of an unexpected aspect of one’s own sensibility”. I find this to be true with the reviews that I like. Also, this is especially hard to do when people are following the herd and are afraid to say anything against critical consensus.

    Let’s all be banned from the Halls of Good and Righteous Taste. πŸ™‚ It doesn’t sound like a fun place to be anyways.

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