Image: Detail of Yvonne Rainer's Spiraling Down Photo: Paula Court

Barnard dances take Miller stage

May 3, 2011

This year, Barnard Chair Mary Cochran chose the innovative choreographers Faye Driscoll, Kyle Abraham, Jon Kinzel, and Jill Johnson to highlight the esteemed dance department’s special focus on meaning-making with dance. The Barnard talent and four premieres were developed in semester-long classes.

driscoll gangDriscoll’s delightful gang/pack/band kicked off the 2011 Barnard Dances at Miller, April 29. Four enter from a side aisle giggling and chattering like girls putting on a show. They are facile and stylishly rambunctious in designer Liz Prince's costumes: recent catalog fashions and sneakers. The work suggests vanilla teen antics and TV, but also builds on the latest postmodern dances by Sally Silver and Yvonne Rainer. The Barnard quartet is at play with admirable esprit de corps. In a central solo passage, the performer hilariously counters cheers and jeers from her mates who had fallen into the pit. This light, fun dance opened the show without pomp. The energetic group invoked the natural high in awakening hormones and coming-of-age.

Abraham’s club and Euro style in Concrete Courtship looked like a stretch for some of his eleven. But he interestingly choreographed that labor with the group breathing heavily and audibly in one unison passage. The diversity in his crew was essential to the program. This theatrical, energetic dance begins and ends with duets spotlighted on the periphery of the unison or resting group. At best, the sharp, angular movement counterpoints stark and scratchy music by Mika Vainio and Pan Sonic. Concrete may be the operative word. Yet the lighting is low and the look is ecstatic.

amnesia by kinzelAfter intermission we saw Jon Kinzel’s Amnesia: Part 1 and 2, a sensitive and sophisticated investigation of the academic situation and the young female students. Kinzel’s pensive postmodern dance of slow movement, stillness, vaguely gestural poses, and classical formations and patterns, broke for a central, video section. On the drop-down screen, students are working with antique hoops from the Barnard Greek Games in a classroom studio and then they speak about a commencement speech by Meryl Streep; they reflect on notions of performance and reality. The screen raises and they dance with the hoops. Their costumes look like early century gym uniforms. Amnesia—with its studied, sustained, pedestrian poses and slow tempo—is a release from all the high-energy and athleticism in this evening and in contemporary dance. The music-box score is Nora Laudani’s Natural Disaster, Jazz Passengers Excerpt 2, and Stereo Lab’s How to play your internal organs overnight. The six dancers fill the stage with undancerly moves that are inexplicably engaging. Kinzel illuminates them as one.

The music in Amnesia is rhythmic. The dancing in Jill Johnson’s Waterline is rhythmic to Rhythm Song by Evelyn Glennie and Barry Wordsworth. Twenty sway and pull imaginary oars; each circles a leg, brushing the floor with an extended toe, in Sisyphean, unison rond de jambes. We feel the power in numbers and the energy in their labor. Near the end they push the overhead light fixtures, setting them in swinging motion. Waterline is fittingly lulling; thus, it’s possible I missed some effect or outcome after the disturbulence. They only return to their paddling. With minimal décor, Johnson evokes the bowels of a ship at sea and even upsets our equilibrium. On this first viewing, it concludes with a bit of motion sickness.

TOP: gang/pack/band, BELOW: Amnesia: Part 1 and 2. Photos by Diane Bondareff, courtesy of Insider Images