Blake Nellis and Taja Will (the latter not performing) with Brian Evans dancing a basic score. Taja’s recorded voice: “Shimmy. Grasp. Catch. Kiss. Lunge. Point…..” spoken with equal value. There’s a musical interlude of past hits (“I like to move it, move it”). When she commands “Go!” the men run to the back center spotlight and perform some contact improv whilst still attempting the recorded directives. Not much depth here but a nod to the recent Contact Improvisation fest we’ve enjoyed through the Walker and Steve Paxton’s visit.
The evening progressed with mostly solos that began on center stage. The few ensemble works — by Darrius Strong (STRONGmovement) and In New Company (INC) — stood out for their ability to go deep quickly in the seven minutes-or-less format that CE demands.
A solo by Ashley R.T. Yergend in collaboration with the performer Katherine Griffis, who has obvious amazing dancing chops, was overerwhelmed by the huge video behind her. Pink undies did no favors. Just when she was about to do an amazing back flip sideways to her feet, Griffis’s beautiful face took over the screen so I had to force myself to watch the tiny low dance onstage. The timing was off. Slow and uninteresting. When will people stop sabotaging their work by using video? It always steals focus, even when it’s blurry and slow. It’s big, so we look. I remember adjudicating a U of MN dance project and 85% of the students said “and there will be a video of course…”
Next up was the beautiful, sinewy Canaan Mattson. When someone is that gorgeous, like say, Eva Mohn, or Marciano Silva, it makes me wonder, “Are they actually good dancers or just simply extremely attractive?” Is being a compelling dancer something you can learn or harness? Does it help? What do people mean when they say “I couldn’t take my eyes off of you” or “He/She could just stand there and it would be great?” Is this the equivalent of an actor reading the telephone book? Mattson has the potential for real star quality replete with fine dancing. It made no sense why he kept looking to his left or that he did quicksilver catch steps that ended with ronde des jambes, time lapse photography- like, or that Eric Nordstrom entered and spoke and then sang (nice voice) – but it was all easy on the eyes. A supple back and a becoming profile, jaw. His arms and hands were eloquent. Eventually, there will need to be more meat in the composition but elements are there.
STRONG movement was next. Entering down the aisles, four men and one woman with red fabric bits on their costumes frisked, assaulted, violated and trembled toward the future, downstage left to music by Denovali Swingfest. Piece by Piece impressed with it’s young, mostly U of MN cast and creators.
Next an aerial solo on rope or corde lisse called Black Solitude/Autonomous Wildness by Junauda Petrus. She is very strong and can hold stillness and our attention. The ending image, a profile that looked like a hanging, was extraordinary. But poor choices in music and wardrobe made the piece hard to watch.
Deja Stowers ends her solo with a scream. It was great. The rest was a collage of lots of different music and vast movement with the body she accepts. Her hips are pure muscle and bones and flesh but mostly purpose. They reason wildly throughout the stage.
INC’s REM featured hip hop ringers Aneka McMullen and Arturo Miles along with a winning squad of other committed movers. It was playful from beginning to end. It evoked the dream state so well, with residual cabs running around. There’s still the perpetual frontal presentation but a refreshing stillness in the tight duo. Good music.
A lot of support in the audience for the gorgeous, soulful Kendra Dennard, best know for her super long legs at TU Dance. It starts with her singing not very well but eventually strongly and unique. Then a Billy Holiday tune takes over. The composition of her center stage solo with a chair is repetitive, building, mysterious but simple. She wears my favorite black dress that I dance in as much as possible!
Slaveship by Tonya Williams is full of youngsters. It had the weirdest soundscore to my ears (I think it’s from a film of the Broadway show “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk”). But it has complicated rhythms which the cast of six moved through with West African knowing. Innocent but unnecessary self editorialized writing about the piece. (Program notes shouldn’t tell an audience how the piece will behave or make you feel. Or so I was warned when writing about my work.)
The lights went up on the audience for the last work by Deneane Richburg, Quiet As It’s Kept. A minimal work, a solo that begins center stage. The performer stares out, wearing a red dress. I think the lyrics said more than the movement but I’m not saying there needed to be more movement. It was dramatic and sparse.
During the bow, everyone was lying down, reminiscent of the photos from the 35th CE. It was a tight show, just under 90 minutes. Not nearly as rowdy (unruly?) as past CE’s. A lot of young voices. There were familiar dancers but new-ish choreographers. It’s nice to see our town represented by such diversity, especially during a horrendous week of racial injustice.
I have known Kenna since 2002 when our daughters entered kindergarten together. She read a poem by her Yonci as she walked backwards upstage, curtain legs flying out: “I woke up to the beat.”
by Sally Rousse
Choreographers’ Evening, curated by Kenna-Camara Cottman
Walker Art Center
November 29, 2014