by Winfield Maben for The Dance Journal
On Saturday, January 18th Nickerson-Rossi Dance presented Accomplished Artists as a part of their International Dance Festival. The evening’s program consisted of seven different works including artists from Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois, California, and Melbourne Australia. Upon entry, audience members discovered a stripped down version of the Performance Garage. The usual panels which serve as wings in the space were gone, exposing the booms as well as the rest of the backstage area. The effect served both to open the space and make it more intimate. It was as if a piece of the barrier that normally serves to divide audience and performer was taken away, lending the evening a more informal, relaxed vibe instead of the stereotypical pretensions of a theatre.
This breaking of the barrier as well as of theatrical norms carried on into the first work of the evening, Glitter in the Gutter by Catherine Cabeen/Hyphen. This piece combines elements of movement and comedic theatre to weave a narrative and often disrupts the bounds of the space both by referencing the presence of the audience and by invading the audience’s space for narrative and comedic effect. The work chronicles the life of two dancers through various stages in their careers and serves as a satire of both the professional and academic worlds of dance. The tension at the center of the work is that between expression, entertainment, and financial success in the dance world. Through their antics the audience was able to see the struggles many performers face throughout their careers as Cabeen and her partner Kristina Berger struggled to find a means of expression that was both entertaining and financially viable. However, the satire never dips into cynicism and remains lighthearted throughout serving as a reminder that often by poking fun at our flaws we can discover the uncomfortable truths that surround us.
Next was Impetus, performed by Pennsylvania Ballet II and choreographed by Ashley Walton. This work stands in stark contrast to the first, as where Glitter in the Gutter is lighthearted and theatrical Impetus is dramatic, dynamic, and highly technical. The piece begins with a large corps of dancers moving in counterpoint with one another, the juxtaposition of their movements against one another building dramatic highs and lows against the backdrop of the space. Contractions were heavily utilized, disrupting the traditionally balletic lines of the dancers and allowing for a greater diversity of movement throughout the work. Eventually soloists and duets emerge and perform set against the backdrop of the corps, each delivering on the dramatic spectacle of the work. While more traditional than the night’s opener, Impetus was able to find its own voice among the other works of the evening both through the sheer size of its cast and the unflinching dynamic qualities of the technique on display.
The third work, which closed the first half of the night’s performances, was Christian Denice’s Echo. This solo carries an undertone of reverence, with Denice beginning the piece in a prostrate position reminiscent of worship or prayer. As the movement continues circuitous motifs emerge and Denice’s focus turns internal. This shift to the self draws the audience into what becomes a personal journey; for Denice there is no audience, just a body moving through a space. The work is hypnotic and enthralling; and afterwards the audience is left with the impression of having caught a glimpse into the life and personhood of another.
Opening the second half of the showcase was Vertical Shadows, a company based out of Melbourne, Australia. Their work Easy is a duet which features a minimalist aesthetic, as the two dancers emerge clad in black with no adornment or decoration. The movement itself is fluid and voluptuous, the pair weave in and around each other in a manner that is visually reminiscent of a “rolling point of contact” exercise. Spinal undulations and intertwined limbs emerge as motifs which begin to build shape after shape through the criss-crossing of limbs. The pair moves around and through each other with a fluid grace, finding each position ease then seamlessly moving on to the next. Easy inhabits a state of flux in which two dancers become one, amorphously shifting from one position to the next, and exhibits the otherworldly beauty of the unnatural in doing so.
Next was NRD’s own offering for the showcase, Heartbeat, choreographed by Michael Nickerson-Rossi and performed by Sarah Warren. This work is largely concerned with shape, in particular the long and drawn out lines of the body. Warren moves through an ebb and flow which slowly builds her shape to a dramatic peak before initiating into the next movement. There’s a suspenseful elegance to the movement that leaves the audience hanging onto every last moment before the release that leads them into the next.
The evening’s penultimate work was Amá by d a n a h b e l l a Dance Works which was also shown at NRD’s Direct/Link last August. The work features two performers whose relationship exists in a constant state of flux, highlighted by the juxtaposition between more confrontational moments in the choreography with moments of synchronicity. This contrast allows for a complicated exploration of the dynamic between the two which mirrors the complex nature of actual relationships. Shifting power dynamics and interpersonal changes can be gleaned from the way the two interact with each other and the ending in which the two come together in silence serves to highlight the humanity of their complicated bond.
Closing out the night’s program was So It Goes by 10 Hairy Legs. This work exists as a continuous feed of movement; as three dancers feed in and out of solo and duet phrases. The movement is highly gestural at times but regularly switches to longer phrase work which is more suspended in nature. This builds dynamic contrast into the movement itself as well as in the relationship between the three dancers as they fade in and out of synchronicity. This contrast serves to display the relationship between unity and individuality, highlighting each performer as an individual and as part of a whole and exploring the interplay between those two roles.
The program as a whole served to bring artists from across the country as well as Australia to Philadelphia in a celebration of dance, highlighting a diverse array of strengths and themes across those selected to perform. The stripped down showcase environment allowed for the choreography to speak for itself and for the audience to enjoy the work in a setting that felt intimate. The outpouring of support felt after each work had concluded was indicative of the importance of events like these as they exist to celebrate and platform working artists and allow those in attendance to broaden their scope of the dance world as it exists today.
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