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A Quartet of Female Choreographers
Oberon's Grove: A Quartet
June 15th, 2016

Photo © © Shinichi Iova-Koga

Wednesday June 15th, 2016 - Works by four prominent contemporary female choreographers were on offer this evening at New York Live Arts. In a well-contrasted program, distinctive dancing and excellent lighting made each piece glow in its own unique way.

One couldn't ask for a more engrossing start to an evening of dance than that offered by Molissa Fenley and Company: a duet entitled THE THIRD COAST (Premiere), and MALI, a solo danced by Ms. Fenley. Evocative music by Ryuichi Sakamoto (duet) and Laetitia Sonami (solo), and splendid lighting by David Moodey, were attractive assets to these two works.

In a violet world, dancers Christiana Axelsen and Rebecca Chaleff dance a stylized duet in-sync. Their moves and gestures imply a secret language. Dawn-light glows as the two continue to mirror one another. In a second, more animated section - to piano music - the lighting goes sea-green. The two dancers bring a compelling grace to the angular movement.

This mysterious duet leads directly into the solo danced by Ms. Fenley: a captivating experience in every regard as the fusion of the soundscape - clattering, crunching, sloshing - the lighting, and the dancer's mesmerizing movement held the theatre under a spell. Ms. Fenley's arms and hands were so expressive, and her sense of commitment gave the work a gorgeous resonance.

Elisa Monte's DEXTRA DEI was originally set as men's quartet: the choreographer's 1989 response to the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. Ms. Monte has now expanded the work, adding four women to the cast.

It is a work that is both somber and sexy, full of chiaroscuro effects created by the David Moodey lighting. To atmospheric music by Tibor Szemzo, four men roll onto the stage and form patterns of moving sculpture. The delectable Clymene Baugher rolls on from the opposite corner where she encounters Thomas Varvaro. Their intimate, floor-oriented duet ends in surrender and repose.

Lithe and supremely feminine, Maria Ambrose appears and is manipulated aloft by the three remaining men; the music is ominous, with deep vocals and bird cries. JoVanna Parks and Shay Bland enter, jungle drums sound softly, reverberating in the rain forest mist. The men withdraw, the woman dance a quartet with fleeting solo passages: an exotic tribal rite of a restless sisterhood.

The men reappear, repeating the movement motifs that initiated the ballet. Over a sustained note, partnerships form: stylized lifts and turns abound as pulsing music underscores the communal rituals. The work, perhaps just a trifle too long, showed off Monte's dancers to perfection.

Margo Sappington's ENTWINED depicts the melding of bodies and spirits. At once sensual and magical, this on-pointe ballet is set to Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes. I was familiar with this work from having seen Jennie Somogyi and Charles Askegard perform the signature duet from it with Ballet Next in 2011.

This evening I was particularly delighted to find Lily Di Piazza dancing in the ballet's opening pas de trois; I remember Lily's dancing from her SAB days. Ms. Sappington and I had a lovely chat before tonight's show, and she told me she had originally made this role on Lily.

As mists roll by, Lily, Marjorie Fiering, and  Marlon Taylor-Wiles danced with effortless beauty, accenting the classicism of the vocabulary. Marlon's impressive physique and his powerful charisma were a counterpoise to the elegant feminine allure of the two girls.

Silken Kelly appears for a solo, danced in pools of light; the lyrical choreography was sublimely articulated by this radiant dancer. The exquisite Chrystyn Mariah Fentroy then joined Mr. Taylor-Wiles for the tender, languid pas de deux; performing with an intimacy which we are permitted to savor, the two dancers fused into a single spirit. The duet's ensuing, more animated passage gave the dancers space-filling combinations and complex partnering elements.

Earlier this week, I caught a studio run-thru of Jennifer Muller's newest creation, WORKING TITLE.  Consisting of four duets - into which interjections by other dancers sometimes occur - the dancing is accompanied live by Yut Chia and Shayne Lebron Acevedo, of Yut and the Hot Four. Ms. Muller told me that she heard Yut playing in the subway station, approached him, and asked if he'd be up for a collaboration. The result is WORKING TITLE, a dancework about relationships that mixes passionate music and dynamic dance. A row of chairs is the setting for the characters, who come and go throughout the ballet, sometimes observing those who are dancing, sometimes isolated, withdrawn, deep in thought.

In the opening vignette, Alexandre Balmain pursues Michelle Tara Lynch, setting up a duet of passionate turmoil, superbly performed by this alluring pair of dancers. Ms. Lynch's hair becomes an active participant in the dance as she sought to steer clear of the young Frenchman's advances. Alexandre's line, and his lavish extension, continually lure the eye. Elijah Laurant, Ms. Muller's newest dancer, turns this duet into a trio: his place in the romantic triangle is a bit ambiguous: we can't tell if he's just a troublemaker or if there's some attraction between him and Alexandre...or him and Michelle. This added dramatic aspect keeps things lively.

Gen Hashimoto then tries to interest Shiho Tanaka. Who could say "no" to Gen? But Shiho does. Their duet becomes tempestuous: Shiho's solo marks her desire to be left alone, while Gen covers the space with his trademark sexy, bad-boy bravura. As Shiho continues to resist, the music pounds out a big beat.

Sonja Chung, Elise King, and Seiko Fujita takes seats to observe the denouement of Gen's attempted seduction: he and Shiho carry on - to no avail - as the music turns bluesy.


Sonja Chung (above, in a Julie Lemberger photo), a phenomenal dancer and presence, meets her match in height and allure in Elise King. As the two tall women veer between attraction and avoidance, emotions well up and feelings are hurt. Seiko Fujita tries to intervene - again, we don't know her motive - but Sonja and Elise leave things unsorted.


Suddenly, Elijah Laurant sweeps Seiko Fujita off her feet (Julie Lemberger photo above) as they go wild in a high-energy duet, ripe with power and passion.

All the dancers then take seats, to ponder their solitary desires. Gen has another vivid solo, as does Sonja, and then a bit more brilliance from Seiko. All seek resolution. Sonja and Elise move off together; Gen finally persuades Shiho of his sincerity. We can't be quite sure of the Michelle-Alexandre-Elijah situation. Seiko walks forward alone as the lights dim.

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