Crossing Paths

Crossing Paths: An Evening of Artistic Journeys

My review for this wonderful production is, admittedly, woefully late. Unfortunately, I was ill and unable to attend KYL/D dancer, Evalina (Wally) Carbonell’s, production, Crossing Paths, a collection of nine pieces, at Chi Movement Arts Center on March 19. Thankfully, I was able to view the performance virtually last week and would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to write the rave review that it deserves. The show featured a select group of New York and Philadelphia-based choreographers: Evalina (Wally) Carbonell, Sarah Carlson, Malcom Shute, and Nick M. Daniels. Although each of the artists possesses a unique choreographic style and approach to dance-making, Carbonell managed to curate a show that presented a cohesive narrative, one that explores the themes of trauma, recovery, and change.

The evening opened with Apple, a solo piece choreographed and danced by Carbonell, assisted by her charming young daughter, Lina. The curtains opened and little Lina ran onstage to a basket, from which she passed apples to audience members in the front row while her mother lay still underneath an up ended chair upstage. Abruptly, the lights came on and to the anticipatory whistling music, Carbonell sharply scuttled and scurried in and around the chair, seemingly trapped. The choreography quickly swelled, as Carbonell performed spiraling turns, dramatic inversions to the floor, and splayed extensions supported by the chair. All of this virtuosic movement was punctuated by subtle isolations and breath work. Her long, blood-red dress highlighted the helical choreography, evoking images of Martha Graham’s Lamentation and Appalachian Spring. Toward the middle of the piece, Carbonell moved forward to where an apple hung from a red post, and, hiding behind her black bowler hat, took a bite. After biting the apple, the movement became more frantic, drawing on principles of classical ballet, as if she were facing an invisible adversary. This inner conflict brought to mind a great deal of the Western symbolism surrounding an apple, such as Snow White’s poisoned apple and the apple that tempted Eve. Carbonell’s use of the “forbidden fruit,” in combination with such compelling choreography created a deeply allegorical piece that, from my perspective, represented the loss of innocence and a girl’s transition to fertility and womanhood.

As exciting as the first piece was, the second was equally subdued. The recording of Malcom Shute’s piece, Cascade, began in silence and darkness. There appeared to be dancers seated or crouched one behind the other in the center of the space. After four minutes and thirty seconds of silence and stillness, which I thought was excessive, the piece began with slow arm movements, like sun rays reaching out from a center point. The slow and sustained quality never once altered, as the performers moved like sloths from one supported structure to another, constantly unfolding and refolding. Although I was impressed by the dancers’ muscular control and mental fortitude, after twenty-three minutes of this soporific piece, I began to think to myself that this choreography was the exact opposite of a cascade and that it needed defibrillators to bring it back to life. Then I wondered if the ironic juxtaposition of title to movement was meant to comment on our society’s obsession with instant gratification. Then, finally, when the piece came to a close, I noticed something that made me laugh out loud: The claps were moving too slowly…meaning that the entire piece had somehow been recorded in slow motion. So, what I thought was a new method of either meditation or torture was actually a very well-paced, smooth dance.

The third piece, African/American, was a multidisciplinary work created by Nick M. Daniels. Through a combination videography, a unique score, and movement, Daniels created a clear celebration of Black lives and Black excellence, and condemned current societal issues, particularly police brutality and systemic racism. On the wall behind Daniels, images of birds, chained statues, eyes, and a list of partially obscured names flickered. Daniels wore three costumes: a long white tunic, a vibrantly patterned shirt, and a black shirt that read, “The struggle is real.” The choreography featured polyrhythmic slaps, stamps, and claps and the widely-recognized Black Lives Matter gesture: a clenched fist held aloft. Despite the importance of this piece and the powerful movement, I found myself focusing more on the video and score  than the dancing.

Throughout the show, I looked forward to Evalina Carbonell’s pieces, and her second piece, Sycamore, did not disappoint. She danced alongside Wei Wei Ma and Grace Stern, two other veteran dancers of KYL/D. Once again, little Lina entered first with her basket, continuing the innocence motif. She dropped petals in a circle, as if preparing for the entrance of a bride or reminding the audience that life happens in cycles. Carbonell then entered, slowly walking the petalled pathway. The circular patterns continued throughout the choreography, as each of the dancers demonstrated their masterful technique. Carbonell’s choreography strongly juxtaposed effort qualities, just as it did in Apple. The moments of unison and swirling dissonance brought to mind an image of maple seeds coasting to the ground. At the end of the piece, Lina re-entered the space and she and her mother walked upstage over Stern and Ma, as if bidding goodbye to past versions of Carbonell as she continues her journey as a mother. Interestingly, although a tree will flower before it bears fruit, Carbonell chose to present Apple before Sycamore. This choice could signify that, after a birth or pregnancy, the body will start anew just as a tree will blossom again in the spring.

The fifth piece, In Our Hands, was choreographed by Sarah Carlson in collaboration with her large cast of dancers, based on improvisational practices. It was clear that the performers worked from tasks, playing with actions such as “run,” “fight,” “play,” “give,” etc. The choreography featured typical methods of creating movement typically taught in a college-level composition course. The dancers traced squiggles in the space with their hands, arms, and legs, as if writing words. Towards the beginning of the dance, the group walked around each other in a tight clump touching and changing the position of the person in the center, almost exactly like they do in Pina Bausch’s famous ballet, Kontakthof (1978). The dancers also ambled around the space, and seemingly at random, one would begin to fall and the others would rush to catch them. This is a tried-and-true warm up exercise in Dance Composition, the old fall n’ catch. For me, it was a pleasant, nostalgic moment.

Unfortunately, the recording of Daniels’ second piece was missing from the collection of videos, so I will move on to Koyl, a duet choreographed by Carbonell in 2016, restaged with Wei Wei Ma and Grace Stern. The duet also focused on circular patterns and brought to mind images of koi fish in a pond, coils of charged wires, and DNA, the coils that comprise our genetic makeup and the essence of humanity. The piece started with the two dancers standing back-to-back in a spotlight, and they moved in unison around each other, staying within the boundary of light. After briefly changing facings and breaking away from each other for a short time, the piece finished full circle, in the spotlight, this time with the dancers facing each other. Out of educational curiosity, I did some brief research on the word, “koyl,” after watching the piece. “Koyal” is a Hindi word meaning “cuckoo bird.” Various sources provided symbolisms from different cultures about the cuckoo, ranging from insanity and the passage of time, to love and prophecy.

Sarah Carlson’s second piece, a solo titled Imaging Her, clearly continued the underlying motif of womanhood that Carbonell incorporated in her choreography. However, Carlson’s solo was starker and far more clinical. Dressed in scrubs and bathed in bright white light, Carlson moved from a quadrupedal posture to an impeccably balanced shoulder stand. The transitions between each movement were fluid, but the movement itself was heavily influenced by postmodern dance, given the low extensions and angular shapes. Carlson also accumulated her phrases by performing one gesture, then a second, then the first and second together, and so on and so forth, likening her work to Trisha Brown’s Accumulations. At the end of the piece, Carlson touched her breasts over her scrubs, brushed her clothes and hair, and swept her hands through the air near her face as if swatting flies. I got the sense that she was cleansing the body and the space. Before the lights went out, a voice rang out “you should have your results in the next few days,” revealing the darker side of the coin (my interpretation was breast cancer or fertility treatments).

The last piece, Personal Space, choreographed by Malcom Shute, was a duet that, for me, built upon the mournful tone of the previous piece. The two dancers begin seated on a table, facing the way from the audience, with an arm around each other’s shoulders. After the last piece, I thought of a table in an operating room or of people comforting each other after a traumatic event. On the table, the dancers crouched, unfurled, guided, and supported each other through gentle lifts and balances. At one point during the dance, they rolled on the table with arms outstretched to the side, a prominent gesture in Tally Beatty’s famous solo, Mourner’s Bench. This allusion reinforced the grief imagery for me as I watched the piece.

After watching the series of nine pieces, I wondered if the entire production of Crossing Paths could be an allegory for trauma, recovery, and process. Each choreographer presented two emotionally driven pieces that could be connected to that idea. All in all, it was a fascinating show, and I look forward to the next.

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