Four Young Choreographers at the Joyce

Earlier this week, I went to two programs at the Joyce Theater showcasing new works by four young female choreographers: Andrea Miller (whose company is Gallim Dance, photographed above), Camille A. Brown, Kate Weare, and Monica Bill Barnes. I found all four very good – by turns, entertaining, funny, provocative, and emotionally moving. All were very original. Here are some photos, all by Christopher Duggan.

Gallim Dance performed Miller’s Wonderland, which to me evoked this rather twisted Cabaret-esque, late Weimar Republic liberalism turned to chaos and horror kind of atmosphere. The dancers, dressed in grey-silver fabric with corset-like tops that made them look both robotic and sexually-charged, would from time to time don these fake, wide-eyed smiles. The dance opened to a Wild West-sounding theme, with a group of men appearing to romp around wielding lassos. Then, the lights dimmed and we heard the dancers all singing the Mickey Mouse Club song, which was funny until their voices started to blare and sound off-key. It was as if they were being forced to sing such a happy song. Then, the lights turned bright and the dancers ran madly about the stage. One woman stopped to make a sexy pose for the audience, and, still smiling, went cross-eyed. At one point, one woman marched back and forth from the back of the stage to the front, her face now devoid of expression, like a member of an armed force. Later, bodies fell, and a man wearing the wide-eyed smile again, rolled one body on top of another, into a pile. At another compelling point, amidst the fallen bodies, a woman pointed walked around holding her arms up, pointing down at herself angrily, but with a sad, almost victimized look on her face.

I found this piece the most provocative, the most politically charged of the two evenings. I think it went on a bit too long and needed some editing, but overall I found it very compelling and definitely worth seeing more than once. Ms. Miller trained with Batsheva and it shows (which I like!). I will definitely want to see her future work.

Next were a set of dances by Camille A. Brown, whose work is very different from Miller’s, but great fun, which you kind of need after something like Wonderland! Brown has worked with Ronald K. Brown – she spent several years in his company, Evidence, and that shows as well. I love Evidence, and I recognized many of the dancers from that company, dancing here. Her first piece, New Second Line, was very African, very rhythmic, a lot of fun. The audience was very into it, very into all of her pieces.

The second, one of my favorites, Good & Grown, was a solo performed by Ms. Brown and was set to the music of that Frank Sinatra song about the stages of a man’s life (“When I was 21…” etc. – that one). I always find a blue funk coming over me when I listen to that song. But in the second half, the music becomes faster and more upbeat, and the lyrics, sung by a woman, become about the stages of a young woman’s life. In the background was a set of gorgeous paintings, shown as slides but blending into one another. They basically depicted a young girl, looking up to her heros – Spike Lee, Mary J. Blige – with a set of dance shoes in the middle. The whole thing was so sweet! It made me want to be her, or to have a daughter of my own who could have those dreams.

Then there was Girls Verse I, a super-charged jazz funk-style piece for an ensemble of women.

Then was Been There, Done That, a duet danced by Ms. Brown and a man, Juel D. Lane, who was amazing! It was hilarious – they played characters seeming to argue over the choreography and then trying to outdo each other.

And the second half of the evening ended with City of Rain, another piece that reminded me a lot of Ronald K. Brown, with an ensemble dancing a spiritual, lyrical modern dance.

The second night opened with Kate Weare’s Bright Land.

This piece evoked to me a love triangle – or rectangle – with four dancers, two male, two female, arranging and rearranging themselves into various pairings with each other. Various emotional states were depicted, sometimes the dances flirted, expressed trepidation and acted somewhat combative with each other, at times became warmer and more conciliatory, loving. I loved that they had a live band onstage, playing folksy, bluegrass music that lent meaning to the dances and helped evoke the emotional states.

Both Kate Weare and Camille A. Brown used music created especially for them, and Brown also used the artwork I mentioned above (by Justin Morris) in her Good & Grown piece. It made me think artist collaborations are working much better in modern dance right now than in ballet.

And last on was Monica Bill Barnes, dancing with a group of three other women in her Another Parade. Most of the pieces on the program were having their world or NY premieres; Another Parade premiered last year and I remember seeing part of it at Fall For Dance last fall.

I’m not completely sure what to make of this dance as far as meaning, but it was hilarious! The women were dressed in these frumpy sweaters and school-girlish wool skirts, but they kept pulling their sweaters off their shoulders to show their bra straps, and kept swirling their hips awkwardly as if they were trying very hard to be sexy and failing hilariously miserably.

At times they seemed to be addressing another person onstage who we couldn’t see, or who wasn’t really there – regarding him (for some reason I assumed that absent person was a man) like he was nuts, and then seeking solace in another person who we also couldn’t see. Sometimes they’d put up their dukes, as if ready to fight that imaginary person, but in a cutely funny, not seriously threatening way. Sometimes they’d flirt with the audience. And sometimes they’d just let loose and start dancing, running around the stage, spassing out, having fun.

The music was part of what created the sweetly funny feel – it was a combination of pop music from the 60s and 70s (James Brown’s Get Up, I Feel Like a Sex Machine, Burt Bacharach’s I’ll Never Fall in Love Again) mixed with some Bach.

I think it was mainly about connection through dance – not necessarily like partner / ballroom-style dance, but connecting by making the same movement pattern, and communicating that way. At the end, each of the women pulled an audience member up onstage and danced with them, each pair swiveling their hips goofily at one another, then at the audience.

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