Two Nights at the Joyce Theater: Sean Curran Company and Working Women

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Dancer Elizabeth Coker and choreographer Sean Curran. Photo by David Gonsier.

On Saturday night, Seán Curran Company presented the premiere of Curran’s Fireweather and the New York premiere of his Left Exit (Faith, Doubt, and Reason). The former, based on scenes from Dante’s Divine Comedy to Charles Wuorinen’s composition “The Mission of Virgil,” was a well-composed dramatic modern dance—capital “M” modern dance, in the sense of Martha Graham. Fireweather featured projections announcing different scenes such as “Embarkation of Souls,” “Monsters of Prime,” and “Satan.” The company moved articulately and expansively throughout the seven sections. During the final section, just after Satan made his (nude!) debut, the Company shed their clothes and took on a variety of poses in changing tableaux.

Charles Wuorinen’s explanation of his composition was included in the program; the music was not intended to be narrative, but rather to capture various scenes and the poem’s structure. It was discordant, just as a journey through hell ought to be. The dance could have been abstracted a bit more, as was the music. When Satan performed his solo, he held up a finger on each side of his head to represent horns. With the lighting, it created a great silhouette on the backdrop, but I didn’t find it to be a creative use of the body. Other parts struck me as a bit too literal, but I’ve just become accustomed to greater abstraction.

I enjoyed the choreography for Left Exit even more. The program credited the choreography to Currran “in collaboration with the dancers,” and the variety in the movement was noticeable. The piece began before the audience knew that the intermission was over, with dancer Jin Ju Song-Begin entering in the garb of someone in the early stages of becoming a nun. Gradually other company members joined her in a slow and gestural phrase consisting mostly of port de bras and small weight shifts. Each dancer was costumed to indicate a person of faith—Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam were all represented, among other religious traditions. The costumes made me think about outward signs of faith, and how clothing can be a way to convey faith, or can act as a representation of faith. Left Exit thus began with representations of representations of faith. The piece contained several sections, each with different audio, including text covering topics of disability, problematic notions or expectations for wholeness, and atheism. Curran performed a charming solo to the text by Cornel West, critiquing the desire for wholeness. This made for interesting listening, but I found that the text sometimes overpowered the movement. At times, the dance would almost act out the text in a way that was too mimetic or literal for my taste. Leaving aside these criticisms aside, it was a pleasure to see the beautiful dancers of Seán Curran Company perform two long works.

Anna Bass and Monica Bill Barnes in “Luster.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

The previous night’s program at the Joyce was “Working Women,” presented by Gotham Arts Exchange. This blitzkrieg of a show featured the work of eight different choreographers, each presenting a short piece. Although it was great to see the work of so many female choreographers in one night, it was slightly disappointing that the works were not very stylistically diverse. They were all along the same lines, as far as being contemporary modern dance, and it would have been nice to see work in different idioms.

Monica Bill Barnes opened and closed the show with two duets excerpted from the piece Luster, with dancer Anna Bass. Their dance made me smile, almost in spite of myself, because much of what they did was repetitive and relied on props and funny faces. That said, they did it well.

Three of the pieces had interesting lighting situations. Jane Comfort and Company’s piece, Untitled, began with a light coming from an unknown source on the dark stage. As the lights came up, I saw that a man moving on the ground was holding a light in his mouth. This odd but interesting element was soon lost as the other performers entered and danced vigorously until the end, when they gathered around him and took out lights of their own.

Holley Farmer in “Contents May Have Shifted.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Contents May Have Shifted, choreographed by Jannis Brenner and performed by guest artist Holley Farmer, featured two long lines of blue light extending from upstage to downstage. Farmer never moved outside of these borders, in a dance that consisted of many deep pliés, port de bras, and high leg kicks. It was an impressive dance requiring great control.

Kate Weare ‘s The Light Has Not the Arms to Carry Us began with a solo for dancer Leslie Kraus, which became a trio for her and two male dancers, and then a duo for the male dancers. Three strips of light (extending from stage right to left) were utilized in the solo, but seemed forgotten as the piece progressed.

The stand-out of the evening was a piece called Rebuilding Sandcastles, by Loni Landon. It was partially because the dancers were very technically skilled, and partially that the choreography explored interesting relationships between the dancers. The piece began with a woman who went into a hinge when a man blew at her. Each time a person blew on her, she descended lower, eventually collapsing onto someone’s lap. This motif was repeated at the end. This time a woman blew on a male dancer, but instead of collapsing, he backed away. I find that such motifs or details in a piece will help to engage me.

Loni Landon Projects in “Rebuilding Sandcastles.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Keystone by Carolyn Dorfman was a duet for Jacqueline Dumas Albert and Louie Marin. Although their relationship was not developed in an interesting way, there was lots of exciting weight-sharing and lifting. The two other pieces were Beyond the Edge of the Frame, choreographed by Sidra Bell for Los Angeles-based BODYTRAFFIC and The Real Cool, a solo choreographed and performed by Camille A. Brown.

When I was telling someone about the show, I had difficulty recalling all of the artists. That is one of the problems with a show featuring so many choreographers. I find that four or five is really the maximum that I can take in for one night. Still, I’d do it again, if only to get a sense of some of what is happening with dance by female choreographers.

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