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Bradley's duet, She and Him, etc. - last dance on the program.  Dancers Katherine Sprudzs and Joseph Wamp.   photo by Nan Melville

                                  by R. Pikser

The excellent idea behind the STEPS workshop performance series is to give young choreographers a chance to look at their new works, to get feedback, and to allow young dancers to learn something about performing.  At Steps on this evening, audience members were provided with forms on which they could rate any or all of the ten pieces on a scale from one to ten, then turn the forms in at the end of the one and a half hour evening.  The questionnaires focused the public’s attention on such topics, as “performance technique” though this was not defined, and “Did the choreographer get the intended message across?” or “Did it make you think?”  These are good signposts with which to educate audiences, though they are a bit vague to be of use to choreographers.  It would be interesting to know whether there are follow up sessions with master choreographers or, for that matter, with performance coaches so that the suggestions can be acted upon in a disciplined manner.  Clark Center used to sponsor workshop performances like this, pairing inexperienced choreographers with master choreographers who guided them in developing their works more fully, and many talented choreographers got their start in this way.

The pieces (mostly excerpts) and performances at Steps were varied enough to point up some issues in dance today:  Why do we dance?  Why do we watch dance?  Is physicality, even excellent physicality, enough to provide a satisfying experience for performer and viewer?  Why does so much dance these days seem superficial in its emotions when the dancers work so hard?  The answers to these questions came into better focus during the course of the evening.

The program opened and closed with pieces by Bradley Shelver, the Artistic Director of the Steps Repertory Ensemble.  The first was an excerpt from “Le Monde Est Fini, Pas de Panique.”  The eleven young dancers gave their entire energy to the movements of hysteria that were choreographed.  There was, however, no feel of release or breath with which to contrast the twitching and tremors, so the hysteria became oppressive rather than expressive.  The dancers still need to find their centers and to initiate their movement from those centers.

The second excerpt, “jamais ton”, translated for some reason as “ever thine,” a love duet by Aaron Atkins, also contained the idea, in the voice on its sound track, that one should be calm in the face of panic.  Like the first piece, this piece had a fuzzy voice-over in French to accompany the music.  It was not clear whether or not we were supposed to understand the words, a choice that the choreographer must make.  However, in this piece, the dancers, Donna Wiley and Maxwell Simones, were not only in control of their technique, they were able to exploit some of the sensuality offered by the movement.  The movement itself, though not especially inventive, was quite pleasurable to watch.  Because these dancers have learned to control their movement, we in the audience could relax, safe in the knowledge of their control.  Two elements of dance that attract us are certainly the sensuality and the sense of mastery that the dancers communicate.  One of the functions of an art form is to bring order to a chaotic world, and this piece and its performers did so.

The three women in Amber de Garay’s “Marlboro Light” seemed to have stepped out of a 1940’s cigarette ad, at least insofar as their hair and makeup went.  They moved cleanly and some of the choreography, especially the last picture, was imaginative, yet the movement did not evoke any mood or desire.  Nor was it in any particular relationship to the music or the words of the song by Natalia Kills.  The movement and the other elements seemed merely juxtaposed, so what this choreographer’s intention was not clear.  Lack of clarity was also a problem in Francesca Harper’s “The quality of THIS moment.” The leather and felt vest-like costumes were interesting, but bore no relationship to the movement.  The text that was spoken also seemed unconnected to the movement and the dancers who spoke needed some help with their enunciation and vocal support.  If the words are important, they need to be heard.  If they are not important, they do not need to be there.  Yet there was one shining moment, when all seven women drew themselves into a protective knot together upstage and said, over and over, “Look at me!  Look at me!”  They knew what they wanted, and so did we.  This moment is where the choreographer must begin her thinking.

“See me,” choreographed and with music by Jordan Daniels was chosen to open the second half of the evening and it fulfilled this strong programmatic position.  The performance space was well exploited.  The performer, Anthony Shevlin Gonzales, is a superb athlete.  He performed each movement, flings, falls to the floor and facial twitches included, to its fullest without ever losing control.  He showed this limited vocabulary, so often used these days, at its best.  The performance was exceptional.  And yet this reviewer felt removed from what was happening on stage.  It seemed as if the viewing was truncated by the truncated nature of the vocabulary.  So an answer to another of the questions posed above would seem to be that the movements chosen to be set on a stage must allow the viewer a sense of completeness not only of athleticism but of some sort of entrée into what the choreographer intended, and perhaps some relationship to emotion.

The most successful piece of the evening was “Pendulum,” choreographed and performed by Aurélien Peillex and Julia Ahrstrand.  Though their refusal to move in time with the Vivaldi score was unnerving, their movement mirrored its pulsations.  Their central movement theme of chopping, (which needs development and variation), was indicative of their troubled relationship.  They were involved with each other and their movement, which grew out of that relationship, allowed us to see their difficulties.  The piece needs work and development, but the choreographers have a solid beginning.  Another aspect of dance is to show us, in new and telling ways, what we already probably know about our innermost feelings.  The warmth of the audience response showed that people still want and need to relate to the emotional element.

September 27th, 2014
STEPS studio
2121 Broadway, 3rd floor.
New York, NY
Tickets $ 12