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Chisena’s Unpredictable Evening of Duets

Photo by Bill Hebert

by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal

Dancer, choreographer and curator Melissa Chisena assembled an impressive mix for Friday’s Evening of Duets at the Community Education Center.  As the Director of Chisena Danza and Founder of the Norristown Dance/Fest, the expressive brunette is no stranger to eclectic performances but Evening was special in that it presented—as the title suggests—only duets.  Rather than a predictable pre-Valentine’s Day mash up of pas de duex, the evening focused on usual pairings, nary a traditional love story amongst them.

Proximities, choreographed by Chisena and performed by dancers Eleanor Gouldie-Averill and Jennifer Yackel had much in common with the later Unveiled, choreographed and performed by Yackel along with Julia Kelly.  Both were created as part of New Artists Dance New England as Dragon’s Egg in Mystic, Connecticut.  Both featured baroque classics (Bach for the first and Vivaldi for the second) and both utilized heavily weighted, expansive movements.  The dancers lunged and sliced, scooped and swept.  In Unveiled, they stepped together in a minuet-like pose before scurrying backwards, hands to mouth in a series of familiar but unclear gestures.

Sandwiched in between, The Arrangement, choreographed by Tara Madsen Robbins and performed by Christine Michener and Priscilla Tillotson offered a welcome change in dynamics.  Bent elbows replaced curved arms as the dancers whipped their arms from the front to the back of their belted red dresses; sauté basques sent them whirling across the stage ever controlled and ever connected, just a few feet from each other throughout the entire duet.

Sensus, choreographed by Gouldie-Averill, paired Chisena with Scott McPhetters for a whimsical and zany duet that was part 1960s mod scene, part bureaucratic caricature.  Dressed in business suits, the two jogged in slow motion, posed and then bowed, he with his hands at his waist and she with her shoulders hunched and head drawn in.

Connais-tu- le Pays saw Yackel’s return to the stage as both choreographer and dancer, accompanied by singer Katie Stevenson singing an aria from Mignon.  Despite Stevenson’s clear and melodic voice, the work felt more like self indulgent filler than a true duet.

1096, a collaborative effort between Elba Hevia y Vaca of Pasión Arte Flamenco and KC Chun-Manning of Fresh Blood gave audiences a taste of their joint work that will premiere at PIFA from April 5-7th.  Named, one presumes, for the year the infamous Crusades began, the work featured musician Matthew Fenwick on both djembe and cajon as the two women wove in and around each other’s rhythms and bodies.  Percussive dance pairings are never easy, especially as Hevia Y Vaca’s heavy zapateado threatened to eclipse the barefoot Chun-Manning, but it was an intriguing premise.

Soaring, also by Robbins, brought Tillotson back to the stage with Matthew Emig.  Although too short in duration for much development, the dancers were fierce in their attack of the frenzied movements and their iridescent featured costumes brought to mind Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake.  It’s a shame the piece ended so soon.

Concluding the evening was Chisena’s La Notte.  By then, the rotation between Chisena and Yackel, who performed the final piece, had begun to feel monotonous; the work felt too similar to everything else despite the dramatic, floor length skirts.  But Chisena’s intense gaze and the addition of three musicians hurtled the work into an energetic tango with skirts-a-swirling and gestures-a-flying.  Overall, it was an enjoyable, if at times repetitive, display of talented local dancers.

Kat Richter is a freelance writer and teaching artist.  She holds an MA in Dance Anthropology and is also the co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia’s only all-female tap company.  Her work can be found at www.katrichter.com.

- Kat Richter

Kat Richter is an award-winning columnist, freelance writer and professor of anthropology. She specializes in travel writing, dance criticism, personal essays, humor and relationship advice.

Her work has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Baltimore Sun, Dance Magazine, Museum and Skirt! and she has been featured on Good Morning America, HuffPost Live and in Marie Claire Magazine.

Kat Richter is Co-founder of The Lady Hoofers, Philadelphia's only all-female rhythm tap company.

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