Performing Arts: Dance
December 20, 2016
New Dances is a guest choreographer’s dream – an entire class of Juilliard students at your disposal. It takes us in rising seniority through each class, paired with a renowned choreographer to make something entirely new. Dream though it may be, practical considerations arise from having a cast of twenty-four, evenly divided in sex, process and showcase teetering on the performative scale.

The blend of choreographic voices was unified by the just intention of achieving full instrument use in students at one of America’s top dance programs. John Heginbotham’s First did so most straightforwardly, maintaining a largely classical vocabulary. Expansive développées, battements, leaps and overhead lifts conveyed little beyond establishing the freshman class as one of formidable technique, which can only be expected to increase from class to class. It and Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s The Saloneers shared the balletic vocabulary, but while Heginbotham indulged his cast’s technical proclivities, Skarpetowska took the sophomore’s class still raw virtuosity into new territories, crafting elegant partnering sequences at times with three participants at once.

Each choreographer demonstrated similar tactics of managing a large group, a rarity in American concert dance today. Unison passages easily built excitement. Other times, soloists emerged within a landscape of bodies, best used by Matthew Neenan in Walk Me Through. While Heginbotham and Skarpetowska drew focus easily with a frozen ensemble, Neenan had his fleetingly independent seniors interacting with their environments, making a motif out of manipulating and modifying the poses of those around them.

Heginbotham made up for his cast’s overly apparent flexibility by challenging them spatially with sweeping curved flocks looping from wing to wing in strict musical timing. For smaller groups of solos, conveyor belting is the go-to tactic, shoving a few onstage at a time to dance the same solo another group will execute, sometimes immediately, later. Neenan manages to use these large groups of people in a way that goes beyond pragmatic body storage, using his ensemble as a secondary focus to the soloists to remind us of communal interconnectivity instead of how many classmates they have who can also dance really well but will get their turn later.

Pam Tanowitz subverted most of the above in thunder rolling along afterward. She exploited the junior class’s technique, yes, but with her standard extreme distortions of classical vocabulary – clunky pas de chats repeated like jumping jacks, burly lifts on which momentum cannot be relied, locomotion via deep lunges, and balances held so long as to seem frozen in time. She additionally dealt with her ensemble in a more dispersed manner, feeding in different jumbles of dancers (curiously using women disproportionately more than men) with a variety of material, difficult in which to find one focal point, likely to the dismay of many a parent looking for their shining star.

The pairings of class and choreographer ultimately distilled particular strengths. Heginbotham highlighted the freshmen’s pure athleticism. Skarpetowska crafted sensitive contact and fluid chains of motion in the sophomore class. Tanowitz proved that the juniors could accomplish a Tanowitz piece. Neenan, at long last, pulled out honest and joyous emotional radiance in his seniors.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews

©2001 Eye and Dance and the Arts | All Rights Reserved