In the circles I run in, there was a lot of excitement over this year’s Fresh Tracks roster. Dance Theater Workshop’s emerging artist series has sometimes been scrutinized for a liberal interpretation of “emerging,” including artists with relatively high visibility despite the array of choreographers in New York clamoring to be seen. But for many of my friends, the 2010 lineup (presented February 11-13) promised unfamiliar names and new voices. For me, Fresh Tracks was a welcome opportunity to revisit a few artists that recently caught my attention. And for all (judging from other published reviews and my own rewarding experience), the showcase was simply a success—unusually strong and refreshing.
Vanessa Anspaugh’s We Are Weather had been previously presented by Food For Thought at Danspace Project in November, but it is deserving of repeat viewings. Anspaugh has a talent for compelling rapt attention from relatively quiet moments. The dance begins with Lily Gold flat on her back at the rear of the stage, suggesting an immediate “before” in relation to the first action: Aretha Aoki and Mary Read pulled together from opposite sides of the stage like magnets, locking shoulders and gripping torsos as they lean way into each other, pressing against one another as their heels slide backward until they push past they possibility of balance, collapsing in a heap. Their relationship is immediately competitive (I get the sense each resents the other being in her way), tender (as they negotiate each other’s weight so that they may both remain upright for as long as possible), and destructive—for whether they are trying to fight or support each other, their commitment ends in defeat.
Such is the hook that pulls in We Are Weather’s viewer, and what follows is a similarly ambiguous—yet emotionally suggestive—exploration of this trio’s dynamics. Though there are few traditional dance steps (no shortage of poses borrowed from yoga, though), Anspaugh’s work feels like “Dance” to me in a rare and special way. The body’s movements and shapes are in themselves deeply expressive; everything feels carefully chosen and meaningful. The body speaks volumes although I cannot translate it verbally.
There is no spoken or written text in this dance, though about two thirds in, The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame” flares up to break the silence. The cheesy 1988 ballad seems to provide the audience with a respite from the weighted importance foisted onto dances without music, with a light, recognizable tune. “Close your eyes, give me your hand, darling/Do you feel my heart beating, do you understand?/ Do you feel the same, or am I only dreaming?” Yet within the world the dancers have created, the song serves more to raise the psychological heat than to undermine the delicate layers of tension already established. The motions slow as the music builds. The women are in different worlds; one drifts with eyes shut while another reminds me of a clown. One moment looks like a kiss, but it may be a different kind of resuscitation. Implications loyalty and betrayal, immense loneliness, and desperate feeling—of some kind—threaten to overflow into some new dimension of outburst. Yet ultimately this energy gets reined back in.
It is worth noting that We Are Weather is beautiful from a purely visual consideration; the choreographer has an almost classical sense of space, arranging performers artfully on the stage and, at one point, lining the sides with the long cord of a lightbulb. The dancers have real grace, and static formations—for example, the three are lined across the floor and frozen, mid-spiral, with their arms cupping the space around them—are burned into my memory because of their harmonious proportions.
Both times I’ve seen the piece, I spend a lot of time afterwards thinking about the title. It seems strangely unified (WE ARE weather) for a dance crafted of strained relationships. But weather encompasses more than those “acts of God” that seem to strike with such clarity of focus. I once knew an aspiring meteorologist, and when teasingly provoked to make a prediction, he’d reply, “Today there is a 100% chance of weather.” I come back to that when I’m processing Anspaugh’s work. It seems to explore those subtle shifts of degree, the gust of a breeze, the slow morphing of cloud formations, and the imperceptible brightening and clouding of the sky. The ways different masses confront each other and wrestle with a challenge to momentum. The fluidity of every experience.
While Anspaugh’s piece felt the most sophisticated of the Fresh Tracks offerings, there was much more to enjoy and explore. Liz Santoro, a captivating performer recently performing with Jack Ferver, presented Good Girl, a duet between her and a giant projection of herself. Her live, tangible self was a well-behaved, arabesque-promenade-ing approval-seeker, clothed in a blue-trimmed white dress. The larger-than-life alter ego (existing, hilariously, on a cut-out of her form) was naked except for some arm-warmers and thigh-high striped socks. She frolicked through various dance options, sometimes jiggling confrontationally at us, sometimes retreating to do whatever she felt like (again, hilarious—a walk-like-an-Egyptian strut at one point). Real-Liz was like a proper, and properly-frightened, Alice overwhelmed by giantess-Liz as a mad Wonderland distortion, posed to destroy decency. When lip-syncing “I wanna fuck you like an animal!” projection-Liz really meant “Off with her head!” (The karaoke version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” was used; no profanity was actually audible in this show.) This crystallizes what I find so interesting about Santoro. She is funny and even gimmicky, but she also creates chords of real darkness.
Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith displayed unusual choreographic command for young dance-makers in last fall’s Blanket duet at The Tank. For Fresh Tracks, Smith created The Miner, a solo for Lieber. As in Blanket, repetition is a key device, with actions morphing slowly and organically, shifting in tone through a spectrum including seductive, driven, awkward, limp, and silly. I love their movements (it is hard for me to shift from “they” as collaborators to “her” as the composer or performer of this solo), which seem to draw from every source: leap frog, slow-dancing, swimming, hauling, piano-picking, Modern Dance 101, skipping. They’re very fleshy, very there physically, better described as actions than steps or phrases. The whole body is alive. I like Lieber and Smith for many of the same reasons I like Anspaugh. But The Miner has a more even tempo, incessant albeit slow. It’s differently weighted. If they were singers, I’d say Anspaugh was airier, softer, and higher, while Smith and Lieber are in a lower register, a little louder.
New to me were choreographers Jen McGinn, Makiko Tamura, and Enrico Wey. Tamura’s up and down opened the evening, a sort of whimsical whirl for the choreographer and Ryoji Sasamoto against a ring of colorful laundry. There’s a lot of brightness in this dance, despite mostly dark lighting and some hunching over. Both dancers have an unfurling, near-gaseous quality: articulate in the way that a wisp is both specific and disparate. They fluttered like teenagers revisiting childhood wonder, a reading made stronger when spinning disco balls transformed the backdrop into a dreamy, whizzing starscape.
Naughty Bits, by Jen McGinn, explores a different dream concept, more in line with Freud or Jung. James McGinn, Dawn Springer, Emily Wexler, and Erica Hand are all conservatively dressed except for one visible animal part: a tail, paw, feathered ruffle, and set of goatish horns, respectively. Jung-eun Kim alone appears fully human, yet—if McGinn is addressing boundary-uneasiness, and I think to some extent that she is—this dancer challenges traditional boundaries most forcefully. She strips down to only her priest-collared shirt and, legs spread wide, presses boldly over one arched foot. As she continues her erotic dance (lower half totally bare), the other four huddle together, their faces performing a tightly choreographed drill for lips and eyebrows.
If Naughy Bits sounds inaccessible and avant garde, it really isn’t. McGinn, born of a ballerina, uses dance vocabulary—the kicks and jumps kind— with clear, direct spatial paths. She uses dance music, too, much Irish. This, together with Naughty Bits’ costumes and episodic structure, provides hints of narrative: time, place, and sequence.
The evening’s last work was Enrico Wey’s Heart Ain’t In It: Four Chamber Studies. Nothing much happens. There are four people onstage, and under the bright lights, they mostly stand around. The sense of waiting extends… they cross the stage to sip cherry-red drinks through straws. They come back. One person lies on the floor, one plays guitar, and one sings. Eventually, a different cast of four (their names are totally absent from the program) comes on to replace the first quartet. This is, pretty much, the entire action of the piece. At one point, though, dancers start really moving and the sound swells, but the stage also darkens, obscuring this climax. The moment is brief, but felt for me like a key. This is a performance of inverse, a showcase of absence. That little eclipse of motion and punctuation lets this fact stand in higher relief.